Olivetti Underwood Lettera 32 (1963)
The first thing you notice about this typewriter is how compact and solid it feels. It’s like they’ve shrunk a standard model to pint-sized proportions. It’s got all the great lines of an Olivetti and feels like the previous generation Lettera 22. It’s definitely a newer, more improved version of its previous self. It’s a little boxier and the keys strike a bit easier.
When you get going on this thing you can really keep things moving. The typebars feel like they can keep up with whatever you throw at them. Make no mistake, this is a professional’s tool, unlike other portables which are designed for the home user who only has the occasional correspondence to knock out. One can see why this is the typewriter of choice for pros like Cormac McCarthy. This little typewriter is meant for manuscripts. Page after page flies through the platen with ease. Once you set this machine on your desk, its lower profile design never comes between you and your words. Larger portables feel like an imposition after you’ve used the Lettera 32.
About the only weakness I see is the ultra-thin space bar. At first you might not even see it. When you start typing fast it sometimes feels like your thumb needs to search for it. But not often, despite its narrow shape, the entire keyboard is compact so it forces you into a position where your thumb naturally rests near the spacebar.
The carriage return is another example of small size. It’s a short little lever that only takes a finger to operate. But it’s got a nice curve to it so your finger snugs in and finds the sweet spot for a smooth return. And it’s a smooth return. The carriage glides over a steel tube with roller bearings. The paper roller knobs are a big improvement over the 22, they’re large and easy to operate, and they make a reassuring clicking sound. This is also a quiet machine, with just the right amount of punch. What might be a bit too quiet is the margin bell. You might get a head of steam and not even hear it.
Ribbon changing is a bit difficult. You need to thread the ribbon through two little hooks and requires the right amount of twist to get into position. It’s a little like threading a needle. If you have larger fingers, you might get frustrated. Nearer the spool the ribbon also has to go around a roller post and through a slotted mechanism. This is the auto-reverse mechanism. Moreover, if the nut that holds the ribbon spool down isn’t tightened sufficiently, the ribbon doesn’t advance properly and some of the slack can unwind. But don’t tighten these nuts too much, as they can be difficult to get off. For the auto-reverse to work properly you need a ribbon with one of those eyelets near the end so it catches the mechanism and flips it around for the reverse direction. The ribbons I used didn’t have this eyelet, so I had to make this flip manually. Not a big deal, but just something you need to keep an eye on.
The paper supports form a nifty “V” when deployed. They hold the paper in what feels like an exaggerated upright position, but as you get words on paper, you’ll appreciate them clearly in view. The paper doesn’t hang sloppily over the back, nor do you need to crane your neck to see what you’ve written.
Overall, the Lettera 32 is one fine machine. It satisfies the needs of the pro writer and is small enough to find a niche in any home. The looks and styling are timeless. The soft teal color is soothing and you can look at this thing for a long time and never have sore eyes.
Here it is compared to an Olivetti Studio 44
(Studio 44, Lettera 32)
Here’s a demo: