I’ve often considered the 1960s the pinnacle of manual typewriter technology. While some of the top American brands suffered declines in usability, Olympia and Olivetti continued to produce top-flight machines into the early 1970s. Olympia is the gold standard with their SM9. It remains plentiful and you can often find one in great condition. For this reason I consider it the number one portable, despite its plain looks and steely feel. It’s efficient, for sure, but if you’re after something warmer and more personal, I recommend the Olivetti Lettera 32 or Studio 44. Both in the Top 10.
But I shouldn’t have stopped there.
Olivetti revamped the Lettera 32 with a new design, while keeping its solid mechanicals, and called it the 35L. I’ve often passed these by, thinking they were an inferior machine. In my biased view the market for manual typewriters was shrinking, therefore, manufacturers were devoting less resources for their production. For some this was the case, but not for Olivetti. The Lettera 35L certainly has its share of cost savings with plastic components (carriage return lever, margin tabs), but the mechanicals and metal body make it feel like a more solid version of the 32. Moreover, the 35 has larger key tops than the 32, giving you a bit more confidence on the keyboard.
The body is slightly larger than the 32, but maintains a similar low-profile design that is sleek and nimble. There is nothing flimsy about it. With a quiet thunk-thunk-thunk of the keys, it’s perfect for the writer who likes to go about their work without waking the house. Its unobtrusive size allows it to be stashed away easily when the desk needs clearing. The carrying bag is nothing special, but way better than the 32’s zippered version, which due to age and use is often in tatters. If you’re the type of writer who likes to cause a stir at the coffee house, tote the 35 in and start a Type-In! Even if calling attention to yourself is not your thing, don’t ignore the call of the 35.
Thanks for the insight. I’ve seen a few of these but always passed on them – next time I won’t. The 319 strikes a similar chord for me – I find them mechanically reliable and efficient for regular use, plus affordable and the plastic is high quality.
Are you sure it’s not 35I (I as in Ivan)?
Perhaps I’m mistaken, as I’ve seen others refer to it as the letter “i” as in Ivan. But when I snapped a photo on my phone and zoomed in, it sure looks like an italicized lowercase “l” as in love — this typewriter!
A very good appraisal.
I’d opine that the Lettera 35l unibody shell is far superior to the Lettera 32 shell and makes the machine feel far more stable and solid. If you swap an L35l shell onto a nice early Lettera 32 engine, you get a really fantastic combination:
Dig the mashup, amigo. Just goes to show that loosening a screw opens new worlds.
awesome! i’ve got tons of loose screws in my mind! USA! USA! USA!
Great review of a great typewriter.
Love my letters 35L which I purchased for $58 on Craigslist 3 years ago. It’s in fantastic shape. Thanks for the review
Is there a way to make the print darker on it? I prefer typing on it to the SM8/9 but haven’t figured out how to make it darker.
Thanks for this great post. I’ve come across a gorgeous Lettera 37 for sale – I’m drooling over the look, in chic charcoal… anyone ever come across one? How does its action compare to this 35 or the 32?
I have swapped the guts between damaged 35l and older(I think) 35. The shell if the 35 is larger and beefier than the 35l, which leads me to assume the “l” is a lower case L for “light” as in “Lettera 35 light”.
Hello, thanks for the review! I´ve just find a 35l while cleaning my oldman apartment, and I’m thrilled with it. But i have a serious doubt, is there even a number one?, in the typefaces i can’t seem to find them, neither in the keys, so i’ve supposed that there ain’t one at all. What does one do if you need a numer one?, write it by hand?.
Anyway, thanks a lot!, Have a day!
Also, i’ve found this original manual, and was very useful,here is the link:
Click to access Lettera35.pdf
I don’t believe that a link was provided. If anyone has a way to get that manual I would appreciate it if you;’d shoot me an email.
Duh…never mind, the link was right in front of me.
The number one is a lower case L. Strange but true. Suppose it saved an extra key.
It is!, I’ve just made a quick google search and found this article!, Pretty interesting!
View at Medium.com
The lowercase l (L) is the stand-in for the numeral one.
Oops. I am sorry, just noticed this was long ago answered. Nevermind. 🙂
Traditionally it is the lower case “L” I think that is used for the one but not sure. Check it out!
Hmmm… Was going to leave a message, but will wait for tomorrow…
Well, as you know, I’ve been listening to the call — and your advice — and just found a smashing price on a boffo Lettera 35L, in olive — like yours, I believe!
It helps to churn the listings for 18 hours straight. I believe I’ve looked at every 35L, Hermès, Erika, SC Corsair, Valentine and Green Valentine on the market. Many many machines.
So Studio and Lettera can be scratched off my list. I now want the tiniest manual typewriter known to mankind
Oh, and I now can sit back and be entertained as the mobs come out for the NIB 35L on eBay.
Many thanks for your words on this often overlooked machine. The one I own was my late father’s, he bought it new and owned and used it regularly all his life and it still works great, I think we had the machine for some 45 years and it worked flawlessy (despite some occasional roughness from us youngsters) ever since. It was mainly used to type long letters for relatives and forms. I recently changed the ribbon and cleaned it inside and out, it was the first cleaning and second ribbon in almost half a century. I have half a dozen more expensive and valuable other typewriters but, boys, the 35 can type. When typing I prefer the feeling of the older Letteras but the keys of the 35 are superb as their shape is very comfortable for me. Design is typical of the period (late 70s) and at the time it was seen by us as very modern and captivating – the older Letteras (22, 32) seemed outdated at the time. The case as correctly stated is excellent, no fuss, the machine slips into it and is firmly captured by the matching contours of the plastic case when it closes. No spring, latch or mechanism to lock the machine. It is by far the sturdiest Olivetti case I know.
More solid evidence in favor of this overlooked wonder. And you kept it in the family!