The Typewriter I Loved

By Barnard Law Collier

The typewriter I loved was a Carolina blue Olivetti Lettera 22 with a shapely marine blue leather carrying case that snugly shut with a big brass zipper.

She was a generous friend, a loyal companion, an elegant beauty, a tireless worker and traveler into all but one country in South America, the Caribbean, Central America, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

I spent several hundred hours a month for about ten years alone with her; the most she demanded was tender handling and a frequent change of her red and black ribbon.

She was gracefully designed in 1949 by Marcello Nizzoli, an Italian artist whose talent was to shape machines that human beings found beautiful to touch and to hold and sometimes to fall in love with.

I never named her but I did love her.

She was sexily slender and weighed eight pounds without her case. She was 14.5 inches wide, 10.5 inches deep, and 3 inches high at the back.

No portable typewriter then was lighter or slimmer.

She had her quirkiness which made her seem a bit exotic.

There was no number one and no zero on her keyboard. Instead, you employed a capital O and lower case l (el) when necessary.

She was American enough to use the QWERTY keyboard lineup with the ½ and ¼ (shifted) fractions and a cents and (shifted)@ keys.

She was proud when an American university honored her as one of the 100 best designed machines of the 20th century.

I didn’t know it then, but her sister Lettera 22s were loved by people of note: Thomas Pynchon, who put her in his novel Inherent Vice, Leonard Cohen the poet, Tom Hanks the actor, and Gunter Grass, who typed his work only on his Lettera 22.

The Lettera 22s of the early 21st century are a little long in their type bars by now, but are still appreciated and revered in Italy.

I do regret that I was seduced by an Apple, and I put my Lettera 22 on a shelf and, I’m sorry to say, abandoned her.

I miss her still.

Barney Collier describes himself as cultural anthropologist, writer, former New York Times correspondent and bureau chief, and publisher.

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