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.
Post-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
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
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
The 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
By 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
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
An 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
Fleet 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
Slim. 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
The 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!
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