A Typewriter Review

I’m often asked, what’s your favorite typewriter? Unlike the father of many children who dodges this by saying, I love them all equally, but in different ways, I can honestly say there is a favorite. It has never been reviewed for fear that a detached inspection might reveal an undiscovered flaw that would cause a reevaluation of its top-tier status. Moreover, I’ve been cautious to reveal my pick, since what works for one writer, might not be the right typewriter for another. I didn’t want to take the blame if you found my pick not worthy. Plus, as we know, these wonderful writing machines often suffer various old age ailments. While mine is sweet cream butter, an identical model might be an insufferable crank.

I didn’t get this typewriter refurbished, but it came to me in nearly refurbished condition. The platen is supple. The carriage glide smooth. The keys nimble. Bottom line: it works. But beyond working, it satisfies my criteria that writing take center stage, rather than the machine. Many typewriters were made in the shadow of their office counterpart with a range of features that us writer types can do without. All we need are margin settings, line spacing and a paper holder to keep it from flopping over the back. If you write for screen or stage you might like a tab to center for dialogue. That’s it, amigo! Anything else is a distraction. Even devilish good looks can be a distraction. I’m talking about you Ms. Groma. But that doesn’t mean your muse should live in a dump, just something nice enough to call home.

OK, enough chit-chat, I’m beginning to sound like those infomercial guys who make you pony up at the end for their secret tip.

My Numero Uno is this 1947 Smith-Corona Sterling.


This post-war baby is a boomer. And like an All-American jazz impresario, the rounded glass top keys will make you feel like Miles Davis on trumpet. They’re super light and the Floating Shift is a heavenly delight. You won’t be banging away on this typewriter, but rather words will fly onto the page, beamed in from your creative cortex. You’ll forget you’re using a typewriter and remember what it’s like to write.

What I like about writing on a computer is the ability to eliminate the menu bar and other interface clutter. I want this same experience on a typewriter — see my words and little else. The blackness of the Sterling disappears against the stark white paper. And like a shadow, this typewriter is quiet. It’s the stealth typewriter. Sure, a good platen helps, but I’ve had others with hard rubber and they’re still super silent. Perhaps that’s why Smith-Corona also labelled them as such. The Royal Quiet Deluxe is another who prided itself on lowering the decibels. We Americans might have the reputation as a loud and brash bunch, but not our typewriters. By the 1950s dorms and homes were filling with them, imagine the feuds if they couldn’t be silenced!

But there was one grating sound that was not eliminated: that ratcheting when the carriage is returned. There’s nothing broken. Many typewriters make this sound. Unless it’s an Olympia SM3, where the carriage glide is like steel on glass. Or the Lettera 32 who is like a whisper. But, in the end, I’ve come to love that ratcheting like I love the sound of the wood framed screen door banging shut on our porch. It’s the sound of comfort and home. Familiar and reassuring.

What’s your favored one? Your desert island machine. Post in the comments!


  1. For me, it’s a close tie between the experience of writing on the 1941 SC Sterling and the Olivetti Lettera 35. When writing at home, whether in the office or on the back porch, these are the devices I prefer. But going to a cafe, or the city park, or along the Lachine Canal (Montreal), I love the portability and action of the Hermes Baby. Know that since I’m not a collector or willing to try 50 machines, I relied on reviews such as yours to narrow my choices down.

  2. Like most of you, I have tried many different machines, all of which have their charms. A few years ago, however, I found an Olivetti 32 in mint condition at a flea market in Sevilla, Spain for 25 Euros. Everything was perfect, even the soft platen. The keyboard was close enough to English to be easy to use, and the additional accent marks were an extra benefit. I’ve never had such a smooth machine, and, because of it, my Hermes, Olympia, Torpedo, and Olivetti 35 are in storage. This is definitely my favorite.

    • If I were starting out, I’d recommend the 32 for the writing group. You can usually find them on the cheap, they’re newer than my 1940s model, which means better condition without a trip to the repair shop. They have that sleek profile that it feels like you’re writing on a laptop.

  3. Yours is a good choice. I have yet to own a machine quite like it but I have tried several belonging to other collectors. There certainly is a marked difference between it and the very similar 5 series machine which came after.
    Out of the 150+ machines in my house the ones I always come back to and the ones which suit any mood and require no compromises or adjustments in my writing habits are the 1939-47 Royal QDL/Aristocrat/Arrows. My default machine is a 1941 Royal Aristocrat in pretty good shape.
    I am also a huge fan of the Olivetti Lettera 32. Other machines which find a lot of use in my home include the curvy body Hermes 3000, the Royal KMM/KMGs, early 50s Smith Corona Skyriter, and the Remington All New.
    There certainly are a lot of good machines out there!

  4. Groma Model T.

    I can understand how some could find its beauty distracting. For me, however, its elegant curves and harmonious structure provide solace when I get into those frantic moments of creative despair. I have an anxious, hyperactive disposition, and the Groma calms me with its mellifluous notes, its aesthetic bliss.

    It’s not the smoothest, nor is it the fastest, but it’s the best for me. The more I use it, the more I love it. Most writers prefer fluidity, but I like the confident snap that accompanies each key on the Groma. It’s solid and deliberate; no laziness is allowed. The Groma only accepts trained fingers and an attentive mind. Any lackadaisical sloppiness is punished. It can be a picky muse, even cranky at times, but I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

    Granted, I’ve never typed on a Smith-Corona. Maybe some day…

    • Something to soothe the savage beast of modernity. Yep, I can see how the Groma induces calm. Well said, amigo. It is a wonderful machine to use and gaze upon. If you like the big Groma, try a Kolibri. Another beauty. An engineering marvel. And the colors! They can be a bit finicky, but a well tuned one is a pleasure to use.

  5. I also gravitate to my Smith Corona Silent Super (1950s model), which looks blobular, but types dreamily. I have other, sexier, typewriters, but for long periods of writing, nothing beats the Silent Super. Smooth and easy. One feature that I use all the time is the “page gauge” that gives me accurate and consistent bottom margins. I don’t know how people figure out there margins using other typewriters, unless they draw a line on the bottom of their pages!

    • It seems Smith-Corona left the guts intact through the 1950s. Very similar action to my 1947, just without the glass top keys. Page gauge! What nifty trick is this? I usually just wing it, sometimes getting carried away and typing to the bottom of the page.

  6. I haven’t used many typewriters. Born in 1988 I got right into printer age. Despite this, even since a small kid I loved them. Being passionate about mechanical things it was love at first sight. So when I was 10 or 11 I got an Adler universal 20 that someone threw away. It was a hernia inducing machine. Bulky and heavy, yet precise it did not impress me too much. After that I got the Olympia sm3 that I am currently using on an almost daily basis. I absolutely love it. The looks, the feel, the silent muffled sound of the keys, the clean design with chrome and green. It just pushes me to write more and more just for the feel of writing. I am very productive when using it.
    I also used an sm9 and an electronic comfort daisy wheel one with a display and other gimmicks, but none make me enjoy writing like the ’56 sm3.

    • I must admit an Olympia SM3 is in my bullpen. Great choice! There’s something oddly addicting about the key action! I’ve used many German machines from the 1950s, this one is King, while an Erika is Queen!

  7. People throughout history have been favored by equipment; John Browning by guns; Howard Hughes and his airplanes, Ferdinand’s Wolfsburg wonders. A machine less revered by many, but no less amazing in its engineering (and occasionally, beauty), the typewriter would become my lifelong companion.

    I probably took more than one shot as my school’s sole rugby player to elect not one, but two year’s of penance to Master QWERTY. And though I left few impressions on the field, my mates were remain, to this day, confounded of my first-name relationship with every beautiful girl on campus. Medical research will one day confirm that their confusion can doubtlessly be laid to the side-effect of countless, helmet-less scrums.

    The defining enabler of a life’s work, some 600,000 pages and a few dollars now past. This wondrous device and I will continue to my initiating the big dirt nap. And while I have spent many hours in the celebrity of such giants as the Royal Quiet Deluxe, Hermes and Olivetti, nothing compares to the touch of my sensuous, curvaceous Smith Corona Standard Speedline. Wherever you look down on us mortals from, thank you L.C.

  8. I have a picture of a 1947 Sterling on my phone in a folder called, “Inspiration”. It is my alltime favorite. I love the shiny stripes inside the matte black body. Yesterday, I stopped in an antique shop, just to see if they had any vintage typewriters. They didn’t, but the owner directed me to a nearby office building – a woman he knows there has one for sale. I head over, and there it is… on the bulletin board in the lobby – it’s a Smith Corona Sterling! Oh wait. It’s actually a 1948 Silent. Not two stripes, but three! I have no idea what the difference is between the two (they look identical, save for the stripes) but I snagged it for $125. It’s in amazing shape! Do you guys know what the difference is, and does anyone have any idea where I can locate tab stops for this machine?

    • A three stripe Sterling! Must denote a higher rank. Or perhaps a marketing test to see which sold better. Sounds like a mystery to be solved!

      When you say “locate tab stops,” you mean where are they, or how do I get some? If you need a few I can spare some from mine. I never use tabs! It’s probably the clunkiest way to set tabs, since they’re removable and can easily slip from the fingers and into a crevice near the desk.

  9. I didn’t think anything would dethrone my Olivetti Studio 44 (that weird, stiff key action is somehow addictive), but then I found a Hermes 2000 this past summer in an antique mall. Near-perfect condition. I can’t imagine using any other machine now for daily use. It has, to me, perfect feel and precision (and has a 1.5-space line setting, which I love, and which none of my other machines offers).

  10. The machine I carry the most on my person currently is a Smith Corona Super G. It is responsive and the carriage movement is very smooth. I like it for its compact-ish design and it is certainly the lightest machine I own. But for pure typing experience, I would have to say my Olympia SM-9 is spectacular. I feel as though I could write forever on that machine. I recently acquired an Adler J5; which does type very well. But the winner, for now, is the SM-9.

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