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…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

114 comments

  1. I would agree with the ones on this list and add The Rheinmetall (or later SuperMetall) and my personal favorite now (and weirdly available) 1949 Royal Glass Top QDL (Quiet DeLuxe)

  2. Just realized that the Royal is listed, but from the 50’s – the 40’s one is great, too, I even love the later Futura, although much more plastic there. Also – the Olympia Traveller (for a super-portable) – I have the one with the goofy color scheme – but it works like a charm.

  3. Love the list. Also agree with Ricky on the Rheinmetall. Great machines. My go to typewriters have been Olivetti 22, Olympia SM7, Rheinmetall, and an Erika 5 (not very easy to find but you can type like you are angry).

  4. I agree with the list. I have one of each. For a hard platen I use two backup sheets for the one I am typing on; works good. I would add the Sears Tower typewriter, which was really made by Smith Corona with little differences in style. Also it is hard to beat a Remington, solid, reliable, simple; they have a distinctive action that I like.

    • I will say this – unless it is local, be SUPER careful about purchasing Hermes. They are delicate beasts. I have bought three online and had to return two (cracked this and that) and the third needed repairs but was salvageable.

      That being said, these two are COMPLETELY different typewriters in almost all respects and other than the fragility, I love them both. If I were to buy one Olivetti, though, I would probably go for the Studio 44, which is a delight, and sturdier, if you are looking for a lot of saddle time (is it called that?) with a typewriter. I also have the Studio 42, which I like very much.

      The first distinction I would draw (and this is my personal taste, others might disagree) is the feel of the key stroke. The Hermes feels molded and custom fitted to the finger and deep, whereas the Olivetti has a less pronounced scallop but also, quite nice. Some people don’t like the very thin space bar on the Olivetti – you might consider that.

      Can’t go wrong with either. Unless, as I mentioned, one arrives broken!

  5. MMmmm…I like the Olivetti Studio 44’s..they “print” well..nice and even….the key action is ok.(the carriage rolls on a large steel bar.)I own lots of Olympias..but the SM3 is overrated..and the shift is heavy. The sm 9 is a good machine but so ugly and lacking any soul..it should be in a dentists office. Hermes 3000…well…yes they are well made but again I find them weird and soulless…the key action is just OK…..The later Royal QDL’s work ok but the fit and finish is junky. (I do like the 30’s and 40’s ones..and they type fine.).. I agree about Rheinmetalls..excellent machines(and some US keyboards are around) and Erikas-absolutely! The 10,11,12’s are superb typers. ( 9’s also…crisp and delightful. but are rare in english keyboards. )The 5’s and M’s are superb..but again harder to find with english keyboards…No Olympia SM-3 will ever type as sweetly as an Erika M. or 5 or 9-12’s.(the shift is reasonably light too). Some later Erikas and Rheinmetalls were imported here under the brand name Aztec..500’s and 600’s…excellent typers The Smith Coronas are superb typers..40’s look nicer if you get one…50’s work great (and the Towers also) ..I’d prefer one for lot’s of writing to an SM-3. Remington made some excellent 50’s portables ..extremely well made..w nice basket shift..true writers machines. The earlier Hermes babies and Rockets..steer clear…they are small..but not great typers. BTW if you want a good medium small portable Consul made some very nice ones(Czech-Zbrojovka works..no they are not like a larger portable ..but work fine ..and the cupped keys are tilted slightly back..cool. Vell that’s my 3 centavos…but do try an Erika…the design of the key linkage is different from all the others…and crisp and snappy… Enjoy writing that novel!

  6. I’m surprised Remington Quiet-riters didn’t make the cut.
    Inexpensive, solid, reliable, great feel.
    And the platens are usually soft.

  7. Great list. I have three of these machines: an SM3, SM9 and a Lettera 22. I got lucky on the Olympia’s, as they were my grandfather’s. Free is nice. I bought the 22 for $45 and servicing was an extra $80. All are nice machines, but my fave is the SM9 for the reasons noted. Mine is super solid, barely used and clean. I also just picked up a Remington-Rand Quiet-Riter for $5 at an estate sale, in very good, serviceable condition. Solid machine and should be on your list. The Quiet-Riters are plentiful and well made. That said, the SM9 is what dits on my typing table…

  8. Quick question. My father’s 60th birthday is coming up and i’m looking to purchase him a vintage typewriter from the year 1959. He is an author and an avid writer. Which is the best one you could recommend? It will not be used for actual writing just a decorative piece for his writing room.

    Thanks in advance for anyone’s assistance.

    • Well, you could get him the number one pick, and my favorite, the Olympia SM9, but mine is from 1969, not 1959. My Olympia SM3 is from 1957, the year I was born, but it has a carriage shift, which is harder to use than basket shift.

      One machine that’s overlooked for 1959 is the Royal Futura 800. Nice machines that have everything a writer could want. President Eisenhower has one.

      One of the Olivetti Studio machines would be good, like a Studio 44. Go to typewriter database “google search” and look at Olivetti, Remington, Olympia and other machines for 1959. Or do a search for that model year.

  9. Inspired by the documentary “The Typewriter in the 21st Century” and later the movie “California Typewriter” I searched for the best manual typewriters and came across this! What a great list of Top 10, thank you. I relied on this list of top 10 and the actor Tom Hanks in making my selections (Tom should you read this, thank you).

    In less than one month’s time I have bought my first typewriter and then bought four more! In the order of purchase: a 1948 Royal Quiet DeLuxe (“QDL”), 1962 Smith-Corona Skyriter, 1964 Olympia SM7, 1947 Smith-Corona Silent and most recently an early 1960s Underwood-Olivetti Lettera 22. I gave my daughter the blue made in England Skyriter as soon as I cleaned it up (hoping to inspire her to write) so I can’t review it fairly relative to the 4 machines I have presently. I recall the touch of the Skyriter was on the heavy side and the type font nice, but the printed letters wobbled a bit. It was a carriage shift, but that was a non-issue for me.

    The 1948 Royal QDL takes top honors. I just love the ergonomics of that typewriter. I make fewer mistakes with it for some reason (must have to do with the key spacing and shape). Being an earlier machine than the one mentioned on the top 10 list, the lid is different (no button, it snaps down firmly) such that there are no issues of it popping up (no tape required); I also prefer the styling of it to the ’50s Royal QDLs (my 1948 is true to the no nonsense, no frills, functional design of Henry Dreyfuss) and the type font is clear and crisp and I think very attractive/classy. The paper loads easily and true to its name, it is the quietest. The carriage return arm falls readily to hand without a second thought, although not quite as nicely as does the Smith-Corona Silent’s.

    A close second is the Lettera 22; the machine is lovely to look at, and it types very well, I like the font as much as the Royal QDL’s but the keys require a bit more pressure and the touch is somewhat spongy when compared to the Royal QDL and Smith-Corona Silent. The carriage return arm is stylish and smallish and not particularly user friendly compared to the others…but one gets used to it. I noticed several machines for sale on eBay with this arm broken off (and nearly bought one, but noticed it just in time).

    The 1947 Smith-Corona Silent is a beast- a lot of fun to type with because the action is snappy and direct, it absolutely slams the letters into (not just on) the page and I could see how this could easily be my favorite. The carriage return arm has a well placed finger hook and falls into my hand almost magically. Perhaps due to the force of the key strike it appears to be typing in bold all the time (compared to the other typewriters)- such that the letters are not as fine/crisp. The hard platen makes it the loudest of the typewriters and even with two sheets of paper I need to use the paper release to get paper into the typewriter- the platen is too smooth. Once the paper in and locked down, however, it works just fine and I really do enjoy typing with it; just not as much as the Royal QDL or the Olivetti Lettera 22.

    The Olympia SM7 is a great typewriter, very well made, the most modern key assortment and it is incredibly precise. It is the least prone to scoot thanks to its weight and the large rubber feet. My example has the script font, so it is hard to compare with the other machines. It is an attractive font, but not quite as crisp as the Royal QDL and Olivetti Lettera 22. For some reason, however, I don’t care for the key touch or the key spacing of the Olympia SM7 as much as the other typewriters and that’s why this typewriter lags behind them in my estimation. The touch of the Olympia SM7 is the polar opposite of the Smith-Corona Silent the Olympia SM7’s feel is less mechanical, less direct. The Olympia SM7’s touch is almost pneumatic. The Olympia SM7 has the carriage shift, but that is an non-issue for me.

  10. I just purchased an Olympia SM9 in very good condition (a steal with case at $50), based on your recommendation. As a novelist, journalist, college writing professor and all around lover of the written word, I can’t wait to pound away on this beauty. Thanks for this list and your other posts. Great stuff.

    • Well done! Happy to have provided the nudge. That’s why I love the SM9, lots of ’em, and at prices that won’t bust the piggy bank and cause undue strain on family relations. Anything under a hundred can usually fly under the radar. The real steal is the quality. Others might offer a slicker package, but the SM9 won’t let you down.

  11. Thanks for the great review! I’ve used this – and the comments – to put together a small collection which includes an SM-9 and an Erika M. I love them both, though, honestly, the fact the Erika was made in Nazi Germany creeps me out. Question: where do you get your ribbons for the SM-9? The one I purchased on Amazon is stingy with the ink, leaving an unsatisfying faint type.

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