The Classic Typewriter Page

Typewriter Tributes

An Explanatory Discourse

or Why I Use an Olivetti Lettera 32


Matthew Smeal (Inspired by an email from Mr Robert McGowin)

Typewriters are funny things. Well, they're not, but anyway. The thing about them is their ability to draw emotion from the user, for a writer to find an affinity with one machine yet not another.

As a photographer I have also found this. Brands and the models within, film, developer, paper, etc. invoke incredible passion from their users, attested by the innumerable discussion threads on them all. As someone who works within the more creative fields, I have also been known to sing Apple's praises as my more administratively minded friends have tried in vain to convince me of a PC's equality. I'll leave that debate alone here but, like it or not, the tools can and do inspire the artist.

I look forward to unzipping my Olivetti from its case and sitting down to some serious writing. Admittedly the same would not occur on a Selectric (no offence) or many other machines. Like my cameras, I have found what I need and am content.

Since being bitten by the typewriter bug I have repeatedly visited the various typewriter websites and logged onto eBay far too many times in an attempt to find my next machine. Try as I might, the only typewriters I've come close to bidding on are more Lettera 32s. The fact that I have one that works perfectly is what ultimately stops me.

I first heard about the Lettera 32 when I read River of Time, journalist Jon Swain's beautifully written memoirs of life as a journalist in Vietnam and especially Cambodia during the tumultuous 60s and 70s. He listed the Lettera 32 as part of the "usual immutable paraphernalia of the journalist in those days". As a journalist with a developing interest in typewriters and about to head to Cambodia myself (and Uganda and Kenya), I became intrigued by what I increasingly found was the constant companion of my older colleagues. Many net searches later (oh, the irony), and I was convinced that the Lettera 32 would be my typewriter of choice, a conviction that still exists.

OK, I wasn't red hot on the green colour to begin with. Now I love it. The single red tab key is art. The size is perfect for sitting at a desk, a coffee table, outdoor table or on my lap on the couch or even in my car, as I have found. I wrote a nice little vignette recently while sitting on my back step with the Olivetti resting on a chair, so I guess its portability is tried and tested.

Letters, articles, essays and musings are perfectly suited to the Lettera 32; even novels -- I understand Cormac McCarthy uses one.

Typing is easy with its well-spaced keys; I can set tabs and move to them simply with that cool red key; I can set margins, line spaces and importantly I can just type on it -- very easily. The Olivetti Lettera 32, for my writing needs, is a perfect writing machine and beautiful in its simplicity.

Mine was made in 1971, according to yet another net search, this time of serial numbers. I was one at the time. I'd like to find one made in 1970 but knowing that I predate my typewriter by only a year is cool enough. Sitting down to write on something pretty much the same age as me is inspirational, almost bonding, like two people with equal life experience coming together to share stories.

These days I know what I like, and that is knowing how to photograph and knowing how to write. My cameras are trusted friends, extensions of my hands, my vision. My Olivetti Lettera 32 is a new friend but one I feel I've known forever. I'm new to the typewriter game and I'm sure there'll be other machines to come. I hope so. For now, however, my Olivetti Lettera 32 inspires me to write and then lets me simply do it. It is my typewriter of choice.


Matthew Smeal is a journalist and photographer from Sydney, Australia. Please feel free to visit his website at

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