1970's · Typewriters

Olivetti Lettera 25 Review

DSCF2457 Olivetti Lettera 25

The typewriter in this review was made around 1975/6 in Mexico. It is difficult to put an exact date on the machines made in Mexico unlike some of the other Olivetti factories. They were also imported into the United Kingdom from Spain but they were also made in other Olivetti factories.  The Lettera 25 was the basic model, the 35 also having a tabulator. The mechanics are the same as the Dora, the (in?)famous Valentine, Lettera 32 and the Studio models of the same era, only the casings and other minor details like the key tops and space bar are different. The whole works of the Dora for example can be swapped with the Valentine. This particular machine had been on display for a number of years in a memorabilia collection and was covered in a thick layer of dust. However, after wasting almost a complete day we had it all working as it should and it only needed a new ribbon. It had been purchased in 1975 and was used by Robert Walker, a famous Formula One driver in the 1950’s and later a journalist for Road and Track magazine and was used up until the 1990’s.  The typewriters came in a variety of colours including lurid green and orange and sometimes two tones, red and cream seemed popular.

Specification.

This is a really basic machine and with this rather featureless machine it is easier to say what it does not have rather than what it has. The specification is exactly the same as the Dora which I reviewed some time ago. It lacks a paper rest and more importantly for me there is no graduated scale on the paper bale. The provision for line drawing is very minimal being just a serrated scale. Probably not so important as I would guess that few would require this. There are three settings for the two colour ribbon, the middle setting being for stencils. I wonder though how many people use a typewriter for cutting stencils these days.  The carriage return can be set to zero so that the platen revolves freely or 1,2, or 3 lines. The unmarked key on the top left of the keyboard is the margin release and one nice feature of this as on all Olivetti portables is being able to put an indent for a new paragraph by pressing this key while operating the carriage return. The machines imported from the Spanish Olivetti factory came with a blue carry case made from plastic coated cardboard just like the Dora and a rather awkward carry bag neither of which offered much protection to the machine. My typewriter came from Mexico and only had the bag and not the case.

Performance.

Since the Lettera 25 shares the same mechanics as the rest of the Olivetti portables you would expect them all to perform exactly the same, which they do to some extent but nevertheless have a slightly different feel to them. At first the test machine felt very spongy like the strikers were bending or something, nothing like the tight precise feel of the Dora. I have read elsewhere about the lettera 25 and 35 feeling spongy but after another more thorough clean it felt more like the Dora. There is a difference though and it is often hard to describe just how a typewriter feels to type with. Whether it is the key tops and space bar or perhaps that this is a very well used typewriter it feels a lot softer when touch typing and without a touch control perhaps a little on the heavy side. This is very different from the tight precise feel of a Silver Reed which feels more like slicing a carrot or cucumber! This one feels more like a Remington office or Quiet Riter. I found myself naturally typing quite fast on the Lettera, around the 50- 55 wpm mark, difficult to time accurately but a lot quicker than my usual steady plodding 40 wpm or so. I also found it quite tiring and I am not sure I would want to spend all day behind the Lettera 25. Print quality was very good as one would expect from an Olivetti. One good thing about the 25 is the way it always loaded the paper fair and square so there was no need to use the paper release lever to align the page. Remington used to make a big thing of this with their machines as if it was something special. All the Olivetti machines that I have used over the years loaded the paper correctly,  it’s no big deal but it is a real pain when a page always has to be moved around to get it properly lined up. The bell is nice and loud too. I have heard a number of people complain about all too quiet bells on this and the Dora but actually all they need is a clean and a little oil to get them working nice and loud.

Conclusions.

This is where I may upset a few people. Olivetti typewriters have many fans and they were always popular machines due I suspect to all the heavy advertising and hype they enjoyed during the sixties and seventies in particular. They are fondly remembered by many who owned one back in the day. For many, especially those who collect sixties and seventies memorabilia they seem to be very much part of that time. Some of my classmates at school had a Lettera 22 for homework in the sixties but they were very different from the 25. The Lettera 25 is a very basic machine lacking lacking a paper rest and rather annoyingly even a graduated scale on the paper bale. It does however load the paper squarely every time and I found it quite a pleasant and fast machine to use. It was also tolerant of uneven typing so the two fingered typist should still produce a good print quality without extra or missed spaces like the Smith Corona Corsair and it’s stable-mates often produced. The bottom line is that the Lettera 25 does not have a lot going for it. It is unnecessarily bulky and a bit of a lump to haul around to be a lightweight portable although it does not actually weigh very much.  Styling is a matter of opinion and whether you like the “sleek, sexy, seventies styling” or not as one writer described it as is a more personal thing.  It was when compared to other typewriters, a cheap and cheerful typewriter of its day but it was an Olivetti and that was enough for many to buy it. Today with so many second hand typewriters often selling for just a few pounds there are a lot of far, far better machines out there. They are not rare or very collectable. I paid less than £5 for mine plus a new ribbon for another £3 which is about par for the course.   For what it is though, it is a good simple workhorse if that is what you want.

 

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