Olivetti Typewriter Models Known for Innovative Design

Published February 19, 2021
Olivetti typewriter with dandelion

An Olivetti Typewriter is both sturdy and reliable, charging through the decades with having little need for any type of restoration efforts except for applying a little oil to the machine and giving it a good cleaning. Due to this Italian technology company's dedication to long-lasting design, their manual typewriters were beloved by many prolific authors and script writers around the world, and contemporary collectors have a similar fascination with these mid-century machines. So, take a look at just how Olivetti's typewriters came to be known around the world and continue to be sought after today.

Olivetti SpA Becomes a Typewriter Titan

An Italian electrical engineer named Camillo Olivetti founded the Olivetti SpA company in 1908 and began selling his first manual typewriters that same year. Quickly, the company's models were well-received, and by the 1930s, they had established themselves among the biggest names in western typewriting manufacturing like E. Remington and Sons and Smith and Corona. The company was so lucrative that it was able to purchase the Underwood Typewriter Company in 1959 and released its much-acclaimed Lettera 22 model that same decade. Impressively, Olivetti anticipated the coming shift towards electrical technology and began producing electronic calculators and computers starting in the late-1960s, and had fully transitioned the company by the late 20th century. Due to the family's tenacity for continued growth, the company is still running today as a member of Italy's TIM Group and manufacturers electronics and business technology for a global market.

Olivetti Typewriter Models

While Olivetti, along with its competitors, produced a staggering number of models, a few models in particular are remembered for their superior performance and design. These are three of the company's most well-regarded models over it's tenure in typewriter manufacturing.

The M-40

The M-40 was the company's response to its popular first M-20 model with both Olivetti and Gino Martinoli, the head of the Projects and Studies Office, working on improving the predecessors' speed and precision. Shockingly, the company released this model in 1930 and, despite the global impact of the Great Depression at the time, sales of the M-40 thrived. Multiple versions of the M-40 were created, but it was this model's sleek and high-performing design that really secured Olivetti as a household name in typewriting manufacturing.

Olivetti M40 typewriter

The Lettera 22 and 32

Perhaps their most renowned series, Olivetti's Lettera 22 and 32 models are considered by one reviewer "the laptop of typewriters." These colorful mid-century models focused on being highly portable and having reliable machinery. Machines like the Lettera also reflect such design trends from the period as bright colors, flat keys, and atomic iconography. In fact, the Lettera 32 sports paper supports that fold into a 'V' shape to give the paper a crisp, upright appearance. Known for being quiet and reliable, authors like Cormac McCarthy are known for favoring these typewriters above all others.

Olivetti Lettera 32

The Studio 44

Another curvy and pastel colored mid-century typewriter, Olivetti's Studio 44 model that was released in 1965 is stuck somewhere between being a standard and a portable as the original brochure explains: "The Studio 44 bridges the gap when a standard machine would be uneconomical and personal portable unsuitable." Apparently, features like "four-line spacing options…and automatic ribbon reverse" that were normally only found on standard machines were incorporated into the Studio 44. Thus, this mid-60s typewriter hinted at the developing office and home computing needs that were to come in the following decades.

Olivetti Lettera 32

How to Evaluate Olivetti Typewriters

First and foremost, functionality is single-handedly the most important factor when pricing typewriters. Depending on how much work will need to be put into a machine to get it running will determine what its estimated value is, and if there is any value to be had in having it restored. Thankfully, Olivetti's machines were widely used during the mid-century so there are a lot of replacement parts, and you can find quality machines from individual sellers, in antique stores, or at auctions. On average, fully serviced and restored typewriters can be worth up to $1,000, and the earlier the model, the higher its estimated value. For example, a functional Olivetti Studio 42 from the 1940s is listed for $850, whereas a working Olivetti Lettera 32 is only listed for a little over $200. So, if you're looking for typewriter on a budget, getting one of the mid-century models is the way to go.

Design That's Built to Last

Ultimately, Olivetti typewriters aren't known for their bells and whistles; they're best known for being able to take hours and hours of constant typing without needing any cleaning or adjustments. Chances are, your parents owned an Olivetti at one point in their life, and if it happens to still be lingering in their closet somewhere, you can visit this Olivetti model catalog to give it a date of origin. Now, if you're feeling really inspired, you can try to brush away all that dust covering the keys and take a stab at typing out a few lines or two yourself.

Olivetti Typewriter Models Known for Innovative Design