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:
If your ribbon doesn’t have eyelets, just tie a knot near each end. The knots will trigger the auto-reverse mechanism.
My lettera 32 was given to me back in 1989. There is truth in your review. The 32 makes a Royalite feel like a toy, and older, larger portables feel slow and cumbersome. It is as if the 32 was built for longevity and the road. If only the case was more up to the task. Mine was broken when I got it, the zipper being torn away from the bottom half. Any case replacements would be greatly appreciated.
Before you throw the carriage you might want to move that clock.
Ok, I bought a 32 Lettera, found the clock (Kikkerland), but where can I get the fine “owl” lamp? Thx.
Ha! The clock is a real find. The lamp was from World Market.
Much Abliged, thank you so much.
A significant majority of typewriters use the eyelets to manually reverse… that’s not so much a feature of the Lettera 32.
So does this machine feel like “typing on thin ice” or do the “typebars feel like they can keep up with whatever you throw at them”? You have said both.
I had one given to me. I want to sell it. Very good condition. The case is beoken and ripped but the typewriter is very clean and works. Any advice where to sell and how much these are worth?
Bummer about the case. That’s a common problem. Take some good pics and list for sale on eBay. Include an image of a typed sample. This shows that it works and the size of the type. You can list as an auction, which means you’ll get a guaranteed sale at the end of auction, usually 5-7 days. But you won’t have any control over what the final bid will be and you may end up getting less than what it’s worth. Or you could list for a fixed price. A fair price would be $125-$150. The case probably knocks down the value a bit. Also, expect about 13% of your sale to go to eBay and PayPal for sellers fees. Then you’ll need to pack and box. Buyer pays shipping, unless you build that into your fixed price. If you don’t have packing materials, FedEx offers a pack and ship option. The Lettera 32 should use a 17x17x7 box. FedEx will charge you about $10 for the box and they’ll pack it for you. Be sure to tell them to use lots of packing material!
You could also try Craigslist. Depending on your location, you might get some action. Meet at a local Starbucks and let the buyer type away! If you could get $125 cash you’d be doing well.
I purchased my Lettera 22 with original box, cleaning kit and paperwork from an elderly lady on the Souther coast of England who described it as belonging to her father–a Pastor at a Church. The typewriter is remarkable for it’s age. However, being pedantic, I would say it could do with a wipe and changing of some rubber gaskets.
I paid GBP40 including postage. Without postage the lady had asked for GBP30. Make what you will of that price and do bear in mind that England is an expensive place.
I am loving Daniel’s reviews. I purchased The Typewriter Revolution after reading his review on the book and I am pleased with the book, but it makes me want to buy more typewriters, something I really cannot afford at this junction in my life. I am currently using my Barcelona, Spain, 1968 Lettera 32 with an all black ribbon due to the vibrator raising too high; if I use a black/red ribbon the typeface is black on top and red on bottom. I haven’t quite figured out how to adjust the mechanism, but maybe one these days I will figure it out. I have a ribbon with eyelets, but I must admit the mechanism on my typewriter seems to stick a little. another thing I need to learn how to clean, adjust and fix. In the meantime, this is my Mediterranean mood typewriter. A moka pot of Lavazza coffee, a biscoti, a little bit of 50’s cool jazz playing in the background, and a letter to my daughter in med school on the Lettera 32. I don’t know of a better way to spend a Saturday morning.
Can anyone tell me who does the nuts to keep the ribbons on. Is there a manufacturer still producing them. thanks
Here are 2 sources for the Olivetti ribbon nuts (Olivettis won’t work without them!):
Debarth Supplies – http://www.debarth.info/olivettiRibbonKnobs.htm
The Typewriter Man: http://www.thetypewriterman.co.uk
Should run about $25-30 a set either source. I bought some from The Typewriter Man, they worked perfectly. But Debarth’s look fine too.
Bought mine in a thrift store in Norfolk, VA. $20 – case, cover and manual. Everything works a treat and I love typing on it. Mine’s made in Italy … none of this Spanish nonsense… Couldn’t be happier with my find in the wild!
Twenty bucks! Now that’s picking! Heck, that’s cheaper than an ink cartridge for one of those fancy new printers. OK, enough celebrating, get to writing!
In answer to Roy about the “Spanish nonsense”: The spongy feel to the keys on the Ivrea 32s always bothered me. I obtained a couple of Barcelona modesl, and the feel is snappy and a joy to use. They did some small adjustment to the linkage, I think, and what a difference! It reminds me of the German Torpedos that are known for being very fast without jamming.
I would love to hear someone’s comments on the above, as I am not imagining this difference.
Thank you, Daniel, for this site, as I get lost in it once I start reading!
I have two Lettera 32. Ones margin bell is a bit too quiet, the others is TOO quiet. Has anybody an idea to push it up? IMO the Lettera 32 would be the best mid-size typewriter if it has a ‘normal’ margin bell.
I picked up one of these up at a local auction for a dollar. It’s the Italy version and I would agree it’s a solid workhorse in a tiny package. Needed a good cleaning and the case had an odor and zipper was seprated.
For those who find one with a case but odor or zipper issues. Use liquid car deodrizer that professional car detail shops use. Can be purchased online or at local part stores. As far as the zippers they are easily fixable. If thr case it self is not ripped. Craft stores sell replacement heavy duty zippers, and upholstery thread and a curved needle. If its not something you can personally do look for someone who works with leather or canvas.
hi – i have two typewriters available to buy in my area. i can get an underwood 319 (which apparently is an Olivetti Lettera 92 with a different cover) or i can get a smith corona sterling. both in similar condition. i’m looking for something small and easy to type on (it’s a gift for a 7 year old). is one an obvious choice over the other would you say? many thanks!
May I know what material the body of the Olivetti Underwood Lettera 32 is made of? It looks plastic or similar material to me. Or am I wrong!
Metal. The 32 is metal.
I picked up a beautiful 32 at a second hand store for 15 dollars Canadian just a couple of days ago. It came complete with the case which was in excellent shape and the original instruction card. It also came with new replacement ribbon. I typed a “test page” and it turned out pretty good. I’m now ready to switch from writing with my computer to writing with this work-of-art 32. I was never a professional writer, however this new journey into the art of writing has given me the inspiration to move on, and thanks to my new acquisition; the Lettera 32, it has propelled me forward into the writing world.
I have a 1965 Lettera 32, dating it from the serial number, and the original case. Do you know what the case is made of? I would like to clean it a bit, the case, but I’m worried it might be leather.
Great question! I don’t know. I’ve cleaned with ordinary water without any issues.
I have two Letteras 32 made in Spain. One has a normal bell and the other a very quiet bell (annoying, indeed). The difference is in the size of the metal tip that drags/pushes the bell hammer as the carriage moves. The quiet one has a small tip, so it pushes the bell hammer for only two or three “types” (would that be the word?), while the other is longer and keeps pushing the bell hammer for five or six types (so it releases the hammer from a longer distance, with more pressure, and hits the bell harder). To make things worse, the one with the quiet bell has a really beautiful/modern typeface. I might swap the metal pieces that drags the bell to have a Lettera 32 with a nice bell with and a beautiful typeface.
One question: I find my Letteras a bit noisy. Any idea how to improve this besides using a good pad? Thanks!