Top 10 Writerly Typewriters

Here’s ten typewriters that will be sure to please.

The list is numbered, but don’t let the numbering sway you. Any of these will do the job. Most are from the 1950s or later. They’re not collectible. They’re not antiques. They’re for working writers.

You should be able to nab one for under $200 that probably just needs a new ribbon. They’re all portables, because they’re easier to ship and are more readily available. A quick search on eBay or Etsy will yield several results. Most are plentiful, while some may exist in fewer quantities. But wait a week or two and you’re likely to find a good one.

Have I overlooked any that should be on the list?

Nominate your worthy ones in the comments section!

Remember: this is the typewriter you’d recommend to your writer friend as their first typewriter. They’re relying on you to come through!

That’s why this list may appear conservative. I usually recommend a regular portable, not the ultra-portable and not a standard desktop.

Get started on a portable, then once you’re in the habit, decide if a different size or style might better suit your needs.

10. Royal Quiet Deluxe 1950s.

Royal Quiet DeluxePost-war boomer style and function at its peak. The key action is light. It’s basket shifted. Plus it comes in a variety of colors! If you can’t match the right palate, the standard machine will fit with any style. The only issue I’ve found with these machines is the button that pops the lid can come pop open if you’re typing too hard. Just slap a little duct tape on it and you’re good to go! You’re a writer, improvise! This is a fun typewriter!

9. Hermes Rocket

Ultra-Portable (Hermes Rocket)My ultra-portable exception! Hey, it’s made in Switzerland! These babies were popular with the journalist set for a reason. Get a 1960s vintage or later. It’s only weakness: the stubby carriage return lever is not that great. The last version of the Rocket finally had a longer lever. Nice! Every Rocket I’ve owned had a rock hard platen. Maybe they came that way! If you plan on setting on your desk, unscrew the bottom plate and scrape off the hardened rubber feet and super glue some new ones on. I get the clear rubber kind from Ace Hardware (Part No. 5182381). Otherwise, it’d also work great on your lap reclining in a barcalounger.

8. Underwood Champion

Underwood Champion
1938 Underwood Champion

Muscular and solid. When you punch a key it feels like you’re getting in the ring. Rock ‘em sock ‘em! You can go all twelve rounds with the Champ. The gloss black one is to die for. But hard to find and can get pricey! But the regular model is just as good. The keys tops are big for you big handed writers. Even if you have delicate digits, this handsome guy is not hard to wrangle. It’s only weakness: the heavier carriage shift.

7. Olympia SM 3&4

Olympia SM3The key action is perfection. Each is spring loaded with solid Bakelite tops. These are writing machines. The lines and colors inspire. The chrome sparkles. The carriage glide is steel on glass. Quiet. Smooth. On track. An engineering marvel. That’s the great, what’s the dirt? Rock hard platens. If you get one on the cheap, you’ll probably be able to bounce a penny off the platen. I’ve had many and they’ve all had this issue, and when you type it makes an annoying smacking sound. It also has the heavy carriage shift. But the key action and carriage glide may outweigh any heaviness to you.

6. Olympia SM7

Olympia SM7By the 1960s, Olympia ditched style in favor of a more utilitarian machine. The keys are light and the carriage glide is smooth and easy. You can usually find these for under a $100. Plus, sometimes you can find one with a blue front panel. Cool! It nudges the SM3 because the platen will most likely be in better condition. However, it still has the carriage shift. But it feels lighter than the SM3. When searching for these, sellers often don’t know about the SM7 and lump them with the SM9s, or don’t label it all. Do a search for Olympia typewriter and you’ll get everything. The front panel on the SM7 is what gives it away.

5. Smith-Corona Sterling (pre-1960s) / Silent / Super Silent

Smith-Corona Silent
1950s Smith-Corona Silent
Smith Corona Sterling
1940s Smith-Corona Sterling






An American speedster. The floating shift is what sets this machine apart. Where Olympia over-engineered, Smith-Corona went for simplicity. They don’t feel as tight, but they can fly! It’s a smaller portable and feels very personal. My only complaint is the ratcheting sound when you return the carriage. The 1950s colors are not the most inspiring! The platens are usually rocks, but somehow this doesn’t affect the sound or the imprint. I’m lumping the 1950s with the 1940s models, because the internals feel the same, just the 1940s style is way cooler! Plus, those glass top keys! The 1950s models are plentiful, but there’s also plenty of junky ones. They must’ve made these by the millions. You’re buying a solid typewriter lineage. A good one will not disappoint.

4. Olivetti Studio 44

Olivetti Studio 44An under-appreciated performer. You can usually snag a good one on the cheap. They’re a bit big for a portable, but that’s a good thing. It feels solid. It’s heavy. It has a big paddle on the carriage return lever. The carriage return is quiet and smooth. I’ve always found them to have good, soft platens. The typing is muted. The curves and color speak to the artist. It’s called the Studio for a reason. What’s not to like? The keys feel a bit stiff. Just slightly. Not a biggie. Really.

3. Hermes 3000

Hermes 3000Fleet footed for sure. The keys feel soft, yet strike confidently. They’re cupped just right to fit the tips of your fingers. The insulated body mutes the sound. Many typewriters have an exposed undercarriage, not so on the Hermes. The bottom is covered, helping keep out dust and other nasties. The carriage glide is butter. Not super quick, but oh, so smooth. This is a class act. It has a matching snap-on shell to keep her covered, yet maintain her good looks. I’ve always found them with good, rubbery platens. However, the feet have usually hardened. I’d say scrape them off, but unfortunately, they’re oblong shaped and hard to find something that would fit in their place. Get a typewriter pad and your problem is solved! Otherwise, this typewriter will slip on your desk.

2. Olivetti Lettera 32

Lettera 32Slim. Quick. Light. It’s an Italian Ferrari, but without the iconic red. Who can write on a red typewriter? (There is the Olivetti Valentine, but that’s another story!) Olivetti picked the right color for the Lettera. The Lettera 32 occupies a unique position between portable and ultra-portable. It’s the laptop of typewriters. Plus, it has the easy going basket shift. The return lever is small and the space bar thin, but not so much that it affects usability, unless you’re in the brute squad. The key tops are flat, but have a slight indentation so you feel grounded on the keyboard. The platens are usually in great shape, pliant and soft. You could go with the Lettera 22 if it’s in great shape. They feel similar. But the 32 is newer. Newer is better. Here’s what Cormac McCarthy had to say of his Lettera 32:

"It has never been serviced or cleaned other than blowing out the dust with a service station hose. I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not published. Including all drafts and correspondence, I would put this at about 5 million words over a period of 50 years."

1. Olympia SM 9

Olympia SM 9The pinnacle of manual typewriter technology. Solid. Dependable. You can’t go wrong with one of these. Olympia finally went with the basket shift. Light and easy. The platens are usually in great condition. The carriage glide is smooth and quiet. The keys are light and responsive. There’s nothing wrong with an SM9. Nothing. It’s perfect. It’s plain vanilla, but hey, this is a writing machine and you’re a writer. It’s a job. The SM9 is up to the task. 

I know, I know, Olympia, Hermes and Olivetti dominate the top 10! They were popular in the day and they remain that way.

Have another to nominate? Toss it in the comments and write a review!

NEXT UP: How to easily import your typed pages into Word! (or anything else…)








  1. Daniel I think this is a fine list. I own several of the machines that you recommend. Oh, don’t forget about the Olympia SM2. Great machine. A little more basic than the SM3 (for example, no tabs), but for pure writing it does a fine job. I bought mine with recovered platen and rollers and it is very nice!

  2. A nice list, I have some of these! But I’d put the Lettera 22 above my 32 every time, as the 32 has a more flimsy feel to it’s action, somehow. The 22 has much nicer lines too, and the smooth finish of the paint on the 22 is more pleasing to the fingers and eye than the slightly rough nubbly paint texture of the 32.
    However my number one recommendation for writing long hours at the moment is the 1950s Smith Corona Sterling/Silent. Super machine. (the keys on the earlier Smith Coronas are some kind of bakelite-plastic material which have a better feel than glass)
    Looking forward to your next post.

    • Lettera 22 and 32 have the same smooth paint if they’re the italian versions. The spanish version of the 32 seems to be the one with the textured paint. I like the 32 for a few reasons; feet in better condition (22’s are sometimes rotted away entirely), platen usually softer, draw string on larger mainspring more secure (it can easily slip off of 22’s tiny drum during shipping), flip up paper fingers better designed. Lettera 22 I prefer for the lines, the round keys on earlier ones, and the carriage lock is a lot nicer; 32’s seems flimsy and often engages automatically.

  3. Enjoying your posts Daniel. I also own a few of your highlighted machines. I really like my Lettera 22 as the person above says. If it were my list, I would have included my SC Skyriter among the Top 10. Very solid little machine, with good feel for the size. But you have the Rocket in that category… a machine that’s on my wish list.

  4. Great list! Thanks for putting it out there for us.

    I’ve not used a Hermes 3000 but I very much enjoy using my Hermes 2000. I also use the SC SM7; great little typer.

  5. Excellent list, but I question why the 1940’s Royal QDL/Aristocrat is not at the top of the list, rather than the 1950’s model? Have you not tried one? (:

    • The 1940s Royal Quiet Deluxe is a fine machine! I’ve reviewed it here with positive comments. My criteria weighted more towards newer machines as potentially having less issues. The 1950s model felt similar to the 1940s, so I gave the nod to newer. Plus, the 1950s model had all those cool colors!

  6. I am amazed indeed. You have included the Olivetti Lettera 32 in the second place, despite I am mistrustful about portable Olivetties (What do know Italy about industry and engineering?). For example, I have the Lettera 31 (a.k.a. Dora), the previous model whose “chassis” and whose “engine” (I don’t know how to name the inner metallic body that supports the rest of the pieces, and those pieces) were inherited from the Olivetti Valentine (Valentine and Dora are almost the same machine; the difference is in the cases only) and later used for the Lettera 32 (The difference between the 31 and the 32 are just the keyboard, the case and some extra features such as the tabulator and the sheet’s back holder included in the Lettera 32). But the main trouble with all portable Olivetties are their misaligned types (It’s very hard to match and to twin uppercases with lowercases in the same line. Normally they are slightly twisted and sometimes some letters are printed either above or below the line). Besides, sometimes those models share a serious defect: The lack of this sign “!”. Putting aside those errors, I could consider Olivetti Valentine, Lettera 31 (Dora) and Lettera 32 as almost perfect portables because of its weight (I can lift one of them with only one hand, and even a little four-aged child could handle it) and its size (the Lettera 32 comes inside a bag that seems a purse, perfect for traveling to places without neither electricity nor adequate places for working with it; even it might rest on my lap like a portable computer). I suppose this is the why the Olivetti Lettera 32 is still the most popular portable typewriter in Mexico (Our poverty sometimes forces us to use “obsolete” technology)…xD

    Regarding the first model on your list, the Olympia SM 9, I am more amazed, because I have the standard machine that was used as basis for creating the portable version, the Olympia SG 3. It means I have a complete, full version of the SM 9 and therefore a beautiful piece of German engineering, but made in my own country, Mexico. Now I understand why the Olympia SG 3 (SM 9 is hard to find) is the most popular standard typewriter in my country, Mexico…xD

    • I’ve heard rumblings on various blogs about sketchy Lettera 32s. I’ve gone through several and they’ve all been fine machines. Even the Spanish and Canadian ones! Smile. I agree the type alignment is sometimes off a bit, but the adjustment on them is super easy. But then again, unless the alignment is way off, I’m not too concerned. The typewriter is for rough drafts only. Super rough. Bad copy, rough.

    • Love the Facit! Just hard to find. I’d rank next to the Olympia SM 9. But the nod went to the SM 9 because there’s tons of them! But if you can find a Facit TP1, 2 or 1620, go for it!

  7. One machine which I feel ought to be represented here is the often-overlooked Remington QuietRiter(tab) & LetterRiter(no tab). They’re as common as cows, almost always have excellent rubber, and offer a unique light & snappy touch at the keys. Mechanically they are about as durable as typewriters get: extremely well designed, easy to work on, simple to adjust, and in the event something does go wrong, parts machines are easily available. Aesthetically, I prefer the very first model(the green & black two-tone All New Personal) but the layer models are almost identical under the hood.

    The only drawback with these for a newcomer to typewriters might be the spool design on the ribbon – it’s a unique thing, requiring one to wind the ribbon into the machine by hand, but it isn’t as hard to manage as you might think & is by no means a deal breaker. Given that you can normally find one of these quiet little gems in excellent shape for well under $50, I believe they certainly merit consideration.

    All this being said, my daily writing normally happens on a Torpedo 18…or an Erika 5…or a Tippa…or a Consul…or a Streamliner…or a good ol’ Corona Folding…but that’s all another story🙂

  8. The 50s QDLs are so much flimsier and unpleasant than the 1940s ones. And in my experience the 50s ones are for more likely to have skipping issues or mechanical failures. I think you have left off the greatest typewriter ever made and substituted it’s poor successor.

  9. I agree with every entry on the list. Personally, the SM9 wasn’t my favorite. The feel and sound didn’t do anything for me, but I ADORE my SM3. I’ve never had a QDL pop open on me while typing, but then again, I haven’t used mine nearly that much.

  10. It surprises me every time that Seidel & Naumann Erika’s go so unnoticed and underestimated by most writers and collectors.

    I have used and owned many, many machines. I tried them all, SM3, 7, 9, Hermes 3000, lettera 32, 22, all those royal’s, corona’s, Remington’s and underwood’s, but no one, not a single one comes even close to the quality’s of an Erika.

    To Everybody who wants a machine to truly work with, if you can get one, get an Erika. If you don’t love them, you haven’t tried them.

    My 1939 Erika Modell M is the finest machine I have ever written on, most standard machines don’t even come close to it’s sturdy, smooth and valuable feel.

    The Erika Modell M might be the “best” portable out there.

    However, there are better standard (office) machines out there, the Mercedes favorite, some Ideal machines, many underwood’s and Remington’s, Royal’s and many more. But so far as portables go, the Erika Model M is as good as it gets.

    • Although the Olivetti Lettera 32 and 22 are the ones which in my opinion come the closest to the experience some Erika’s provide, plus there are much more common, relatively cheap and easier to get. You simply cant go wrong with a Lettera 32 / 22.

      When someone asks me what machines to get, I always suggest those two.

  11. Thanks for the great list. I use an Olympia SM4 and don’t find the lack of a basket shift much of an issue. There are two nuts which can be tightened to lighten the carriage lift mechanism. I have it adjusted so that it takes very little effort to raise it and I’m very happy with it. It’s also a gorgeous grey and yellow machine in perfect shape which a retired typewriter repairman sold to me for forty dollars. And that’s including the tuneup!


    • SM 4, or a early 3 if you cant get a 4, SM9’s are flimsy in my opinion, and of much lower quality. but there are some who prefer them over the SM 3 and 4, I think this is more about personal preference. But a clear fact is that the Olympia SM 3 and 4 are of much higher quality and are more “compact” machines the the SM 9, also the Keys have less “play” on the SM 3/4, which is a big deal for some (me for example). In the end I think is all comes down to what design you prefer.

      But then again, a Erika (5 Tab, 6, M, 8, 10) is allays the best way to go regarding typing experience and quality, but they are hard to get in the US.

      • Just that the Key tops “wiggle” a little bit less, that feels more solid and contributes to a more precise typing feel. But like I said, there are many who actually prefer the feel of the later Olympia, like the SM7 and 9. I think the best would be to give both of them a shot, these machine are usually relatively cheap to get in good condition. To have more then just one machine can be quite beneficial on the long therm for a writer, and just because you have more then one doesn’t make you a collector😉

      • I agree, the earlier Olympias are more solid. However, the SM9 has a lighter key touch and the basket shift makes the shifted characters easier on the fingers. The SM3 & 4s use the heavier carriage shift, meaning the entire carriage needs lifting, rather than just the basket of keys.

      • Thank you both for your help🙂 I really appreciate it and I am excited to find the right one for me. Do you use it to write or for fun?

  12. I use a Blue Bird (1954) as my main typewriter. It’s the same as the Torpedo 18, but rebranded for the UK, as I don’t suppose ‘Torpedo’ would have gone down too well in the UK after the war. It really feels up to the job.

    Another great writer’s typewriter is the Imperial Good Companion 5. Mine is 1960. This has probably the sleekest carriage return lever of any typewriter ever.

    Both of those are workhorses. But I also like my 1935 Underwood Universal, simply because it puts me in the typewriter ‘zone’. But not so much a workhorse. That said, I typed half a novel on a 1923 Underwood 3-bank. When I returned to this typewriter a few years later I was really surprised I’d typed so much on it, as it’s quite fiddly. But this just shows that the best typewriter for writing on is the one you happen to be writing on.

    • I’ve always wanted to try an Imperial! What a great name, The Good Companion.

      The Blue Bird is a much lovelier name for The Torpedo.

      And great parting advice! Thanks for the reminder.

  13. Some of the very early Imperials have a massive arc of throw for the keys, and I don’t find them very usable, like watching fish thrashing about on the deck of a boat, but at least I trebled my money by fixing one up, dating it, and selling it to someone looking for an authentic typewriter to use in a war movie.

    The Good Companion 5 is probably the best one they made. Quite similar action to the Torpedo/Blue Bird, but a little lighter. I believe there was some crossover between Imperial and Torpedo in terms of mechanisms. I think though for me when typing fast the Blue Bird ‘keeps up’ just marginally better than the Good Companion 5, but the carriage return is better on the Imperial. It gets to the point of excessive fussiness and when I want to write the one that’s on the desk already is the one I want to use.

    I couldn’t get on at all with the Lettera 22. Quite ‘spongy’ action I think, as if the keys are held back by elastic bands. I prefer the decisiveness of the Blue Bird and Imperial GC5.

  14. I own two late 60’s Hermes 3000 typewriters and use them daily for writing. I’ve owned and used an Underwood manual and two different Smith-Corona electric typewriters, but my Hermes ones are by far my favorite. I bought my two Hermes beauties from an Etsy shop (NeOld) that refurbishes classic typewriters. They are majestic machines. I got my first one and loved it so much. But I was hauling it back and forth from our lakehouse. Finally broke down and got a second one. I love the smooth feel.

    Should be noted for those considering that manual typewriters are much different than electric ones. The keys are harder to strike and do not type like a computer keyboard. But, that is what I love. It makes me think more about what I’m writing. The result is more succinct, fluid text that requires less editing later.

    Get some good heavy paper for the Hermes 3000. I use 24-pound paper. Because cheap paper is thinner, the keys will sometimes strike through the paper. It took me some time to learn to type with a lighter touch.

    Love the hard shell case. Keep the cover on when not in use to keep out dust. They are on the heavy side, but are well made and built to last.

  15. I agree re the Quiet Riter – it’s a brilliant machine and so unsung. I think if I made my Top 10 it would also include: the SMs3 & 9, &/or an SG3. The Hermes 2000 & 3000 (but NOT the Baby). Silent-Super. Lettera 22. I mean, these are the famous ones you can just work work work on. I also just got a Blue Bird 18b and it feels like an SM3 to me. Which is a great thing. But it lacks the touch control: the only downer.

    And the other ones I love, and I mean love, are the Gromas. I know most people don’t, but I seem to have got really lucky with a slightly beat-up-looking Kolibri: it has an amazing touch. And a 1955 Modell T. The Gromas have a really beautiful typeface.

    Also, I got a 1955 Halda not too long ago and it has a really unique sort of light touch. Very nice indeed.

    But for sheer hard work, really I might go with the SG3 or the 3000. Or the 2000.

    Fwiw I can’t stand the good Companion – despite its name it seems a grim little machine to me. Stingy in its proportions and with that weird flatbed arm throw. The Skyriter has a better feel than the Baby but it’s not sturdy enough to be in a Top 10. My favourite ultra-portable at the moment, for actually travelling with, is a Consul. Light, uncomplicated, and really fast and easy to type on. Lighter than the Kolibri. Very sweet and pleasant indeed.

  16. I purchased an SM9 (1970) a few weeks ago and have banging away at it for the last two weeks. It is a fine machine, a real writer’s machine and I have been loving the feel of it. That said, for the first time in two weeks, I took out my Smith Corona Silent (1949) and went to town on it for a few pages. Truth to tell, I’m partial to the feel of the Smith Corona over the Olympia. It’s a much louder machine (ironically called Silent) and I’ll send the platen out next week to have it recovered, but I’m impressed with how that 1949 machine still holds up. Both are still great machines, but I’m leaning toward the Smith Corona.

    • Those late 1940s Smith-Coronas are wonderful writing machines! They don’t get much better than those! Glass top keys, floating shift, fade to black body, they got the feel in spades! Enjoy the new platen!

  17. Interesting list, but I miss Erika M and 10. My top 5 would be Erika M, Hermes Baby, Erika 10, Facit Privat, Olivetti Lettera.

  18. I think this a solid list, and I consulted it when I started buying typewriters two months ago (I now have 14). I love my Underwood Champion and use the SM9 occasionally, mostly for submissions to publishers, since I find its typeface best suited for that purpose. I prefer the SM5, though, and think it’s vastly underrated. Another machine that gets short shrift is the Remington Monarch. If I had to choose just one, that would be it. I also have two tanks I would never part with: an Underwood Rhythm-Touch and a Royal KMM. The latter, however, gets little use because of its tiny typeface. However, it’s the one I use when I really want the words to flow. And it’s beautiful to look at.

  19. My Underwood Deluxe Quiet Tabs remain some of my best typers. Nice short crisp action, excellent key spacing, and they really fly. The two earlier Deluxe Quiet Tab versions remind me of a 1950s Buick; there is also a later boxier “Golden Touch” version. Plus, with the “Golden Touch” version and the 2nd “Buick” version, you may get that way cool semi-techno typeface with the bulbous p,q,d, and b and the square period. They’re worth it for that alone!

  20. I get why you focused on portables, but would you say that for someone whose typewriter never leaves the desk, a standard is better? If so, which is the best?

    • Great question! I’ve used a few standards and must admit the action feels quite superb and often exceeds a portable. I don’t often get them since shipping can be much higher and since they don’t have a case, extra care needs to be taken so it arrives undamaged.

      The best one I used was a 1950s Olympia SG1. Looks like an overgrown SM3, but here’s the best part, it had the much lighter basket shift! But considering the size of the carriage, that would’ve been an impossible feat. For a big machine it felt more nimble than the portable counterpart.

      Also, the standards seem more forgiving in terms of typebars getting stuck together. I always had a hard time no matter how fast I typed to get any to jam. While the action is quite nice, I found the size of the standard rather distracting. And doo-dads and levers and all sorts of stuff, they have them in spades. Things we writers don’t need. I view the portable more like writing on a laptop, and the standard like writing on an office PC with a 21″ display.

      Here’s a piece about David McCullough writing with his Royal KMM — an office standard:

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