The AMAZING Type-Writing Machine

by wolf on November 16, 2014

typewriterI confess to being the proud owner of the workhorse pictured to the left. It’s an Olympia SM3 DeLuxe, made in West Germany in 1958. It weighs a ton, and is arguably finest mechanical typing machine ever.

Here’s what it can do that your printer can’t: fill in a form, write a check or postcard, make a note on paper of any size.

Am I writing my novel on it? No, I am not. Am I writing notes to my wife? You bet. Do you know, there’s an etsy shop which sells typewritten notes? And not just one. Today there were 472 of them. Do you know, old manual typewriters have no numeral l? You use a lower case L, as I just did.



I can’t tell you how many times I pecked out that sentence in Mr. Urfrig’s 7th grade typing class. When the term was over I was zipping along at a peppy 15 words a minute. My speed took a huge leap when I got my first portable electric in high school–never, I swore, would I touch a manual typewriter again. By the time I graduated college I clocked in at 60 words a minute.

A couple of years before the Mac was born, I traded the old portable in for a full size electronic wonder, the Hermes 808. It had one of those interchangeable whirling globes with the letters and numerals poking out of it. Miraculous!

I couldn’t bear to part with the Hermes when I bought my first computer, so I set it on a shelf at the back of a closet. There it remained for decades while I romanced my way through one newfangled keyboard after another, ultimately discovering perfection in the Apple wireless that comes with every Mac. Rest your fingers on the keys, they resist. Exert the barest pressure, they give an eighth of an inch. Bingo–you fly like the wind.




The Apple wireless keyboard is what I’m writing my novel on. I go at about 100 words a minute, which tracks the speed of my thoughts. But good as it is to move fast, it won’t help you fill out a form, which is why I got the bright idea to take down my old Hermes a few months ago.

Surely it would start right back up–I’d barely broken it in before setting it aside. Alas, no. Something about electric typewriters doesn’t mix with years of idleness. Worse, no spare parts are available. For the I.B.M Selectric, yes. But the Hermes 808, no.

Never mind. What one wants is a manual typewriter, the kind that populated the desks in Mr. Urfrig’s long-ago class. You can get parts for manual typewriters, and you can find repair shops. Ribbon is cheap. There’s even a Chinese company that makes new typewriters, but they’re junk. In the 1970s, manufacturers started cutting corners and using more plastic. From then on it was downhill.

What is it about typing on the Olympia? I dunno. It just feels good. All that effort into pushing down the keys, the weight of it, the slowness, the unforgiving typo–everything I used to hate about it I now love. It’s a marvel of inefficiency, a giant step backward, a beautiful, downwardly mobile metaphor.




What’s a word shop without one? Amaze your friends.  Get a typewriter.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara November 17, 2014 at 8:47 am

I love manual typewriters. I kept one in my bedroom growing up and loved writing on it, although I hated typing class. Those drills made me nervous! We still have two really, really old typewriters. I don’t actually type on them, though. To me, they’re works of art.
Barbara recently posted..Birthday Snow


Lily Lau January 11, 2015 at 1:18 pm

I’d love to acquire one of those, the proud Olivetta! Although Olympia looks beautiful too 🙂
Lily Lau recently posted..World’s Most Expensive Fireplaces


Brian Sorrell January 30, 2015 at 11:25 am

I have a 1938 Royal KMM that I use regularly. Typewriters are simply gorgeous machines.
Brian Sorrell recently posted..Redemption


brian June 15, 2015 at 12:12 pm

what is the problem with your hermes 808.I used to repair them back in the 70s and 80s .If i can help get in touch.


wolf June 21, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Alas, I gave it away. I’m sure someone salvaged its parts, or made glue out of it. 🙁


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