Olympia SM9

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Olympia SM9

Olympia SM9 (1966)

The Olympia SM9 is a writer’s typewriter. It just plain works. Its utilitarian lines and solid mechanicals produce consistent type that fills you with confidence the more you use it. Its got the appearance of a plain vanilla office machine, but in the nifty size of a portable. If you need to bang out a big manuscript, this is the typewriter for you.

Everything about this typewriter has been refined by the Germans. The SM-line of typewriters from the 1950s and 60s were the pinnacle of manual typewriter technology. The SM9 is the culmination of that typewriter expertise. The keys are solid. The carriage movement smooth. When you begin typing you realize quickly that you’re in capable hands. The journey of words has found its companion.

About the only mark against this typewriter is just how plain it looks. Its muted colors and basic lines are not there to inspire, but rather fade in the background as you fill page after page with words. Maybe this was by design and it certainly reflects the mid-1960s trend away from style. This was the beginning of the age of technology and maybe the designers at Olympia figured the market was after utility and tech, rather than style. But what may be off-putting at first in terms of style and design, the daily use of this typewriter more than overcomes.

One competitor in this space was the Studio 44 from Olivetti. The stylish Italian, with Tennessee Williams as their pitchman. The rugged office machine brought to the artist’s studio. The Studio 44 certainly beats the SM9 in looks, but when it come to typing, the German-made machine leaves its rival in the dust.

You could drop down a size and go with Olivetti’s smaller unit, the Lettera 32 and now you’d have a typewriter that could keep up with the SM9, but what you’d sacrifice is the feeling of solid mechanicals under your fingers. The Lettera 32 is way cool to look at, and it’s fun to use and the legendary writer Cormac McCarthy uses one, but its lightness feels like you’re typing on thin ice. The SM9 is a rock. Solid. Dependable. A work horse. It’s German. It might be a bit over-engineered, but hey, the Germans have fun in their own ways. And you’d have fun writing the big novel on this excellent typewriter.

22 comments

  1. What is the difference between an Olympia SM-9 and the Deluxe? I noticed the badgings are different, but what functional differences are there? This is significant because the EBay seller and buyer seem to put both in one big, undifferentiated bucket.

    1. The De Luxe (the way Olympia spells it) has a carriage release key on both sides, the standard model on one side only. There may be other minor differences. The SM-9 De Luxe is about as close to a good office machine as a portable gets.
      As far as style, its fine but not distracting.
      These machines do not have the spring cushioned keys that the early portables and office machines have. Does not seem to make much difference and I think was expensive.

  2. I don’t know what changed between the SM3-5 and the SM7-9, but something did. For one, the latter three don’t feel at all like their predecessors and they don’t sound like them. Yes, they are fine machines and work wonderfully, but the aesthetic experience is very different.

  3. Quick question. I have one of these typewriters and I love it. But I have the touch adjustment set on maximum and I was wondering if that would effect the life-span of the typewriter.

    1. SM4, SM7 and SM9 are really nice! Check it out…

      SM1 = 1949->, Carriage-lift typing, rounded Keys, no tabulator key.
      SM2 = 1950->, Carriage-lift typing, square Keys, no tabulator key.
      SM3 = 1953->, Carriage-lift typing, with tabulator key and manual (slow) tab setting.
      SM4 = 1958->, Carriage-lift typing, with the keyset (fast) tabulator system!!! Cool!

      SM5 = 1962->,New design, Carriage-lift typing, tabulator key, manual (slow) tab setting.
      SM6 = There was none. (No s3x today!) German word for 6 = “Sechs”. Ha-ha!
      SM7 = 1962-> Like SM5 but with the keyset tabulator system!!! Cool!

      SM8 = 1964-> With new segment shift design (basket shift), tabulator key and manual (slow) tab setting.
      SM9 = 1964-> With new segment shift design (basket shift), with the keyset (fast) tabulator system!!! Cool!
      SM9 = 1969-1979 A few updates, Housing design, Color, Logo, cost saving measures

      I own the SM9 (1964) version and I find it a friendly typewriter. It’s not the rounded type of the 50’s nor the square type of the 70’s. It’s just in the middle, which is cool. Mine likes alcohol though. I have to constantly place some drops into the basket joints to keep the hammers moving. (I haven’t owned the TW very long, a few days, so the final cleaning is on the todo list.)

    1. Its the touch adjustment. You will feel a spring being tensioned as you move it from – to + If you lift the front you can see the lever and spring. I use mine close to minimum tension but its a matter of personal preference.

  4. Yes, fantastic machines, the SM9. Looking for an online or hardcopy tutorial that will show me how to remove the platen. Any suggestions? Thanks.

  5. Nice video and review. I just bought a typewriter that looks really similar to this one and the writing ribbon does not work anymore. I was wondering if anyone could help me to figure out how to remove the platen in order to place a new ribbon.
    Thanks 🙂

  6. In 1975, I bought a perfect SM-9 at a yard sale for $15. It was my home typewriter when I became a reporter in 1979, and my daughter took it to college with her in 1989. It disappeared about the time she graduated four years later. Two years ago, I bought its twin at a yard sale (again) for $48. Other than the crappy case, it looks like it has never been used. These truly are, in my opinion, the finest portables ever made.

    1. In my opinion they are not the finest, but they are the most practical and best functioning portable in 2021. I don’t know about some of the more obscure German machines, like the Alpina etc., but among the machines most commonly available, the SM9 is the best, especially the ones from the mid-1960s. They feed paper consistently well, much better than the Smith Coronas (Galaxies and previous models with the same core build). The SG1 will feed a page with type already on it (typed by the same machine) to the exact same spot, such that with no extra effort you can type exactly over the letters after re-feeding the page. The SM9 will almost do this. The only downsides to the SM9 are the eraser/correction table along the platen, which is at a bad angle–in this way the SM3 and 4 are superior for making handwritten corrections on the page. It has some plastic where I wish there were metal. And it’s a bit more loud than the Remington Quiet Riter. It’s also not as easy to work on as the Remington and the Smith Coronas. I consider these three models–the Smith Coronas, the Quiet Riter, and the Olympia SMs–in the same class in 2021 for wide availability and quality. But the SM9 out performs the others in terms of touch, print alignment/quality, paper feeding, precision in controls (ribbon selector, carriage release, etc.), and ergonomics. In my opinion, the SM9 is the one to get, all things considered, assuming you will be using it heavily. Even so, all three are better than the others in some way. The Smith Coronas have the most comfortable keytops, are the easiest to work on, and have the best case by far (probably why there are so many of them now in such good condition after all these years). The Remingtons may have the most robust action and they have no plastic where it really matters. They also have really thick rubber on the platen, which I like, and they might be the fastest of the bunch. But the Olympias, especially the SM9, is a professional’s machine.

  7. I’ve had two of the first style SM-9s. One was very heavily used and dirty when I got it, and the other was nearly unused. It still had the spiffy wiping cloth with the Olympia logo in the case. They work very reliably, and they print precisely. But they look and feel so boring and dead, and they have a longer key throw than I’d like, even after some adjustment. I had an SG-3 that was about the same. I like my SM-3 better, but I’m just not an Olympia man.

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