Olivetti Lettera 22

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A Lettera 22, first model

The Olivetti Lettera 22 [oliˈvetti ˈlɛttera ventiˈdue] is a portable mechanical typewriter designed by Marcello Nizzoli in 1949 or, according to the company's current owner Telecom Italia, 1950.[1] This typewriter was very popular in Italy, and it still has many fans. It was awarded the Compasso d'oro prize in 1954. In 1959 the Illinois Institute of Technology chose the Lettera 22 as the best design product of the last 100 years.

The typewriter is sized about 27x37x8 cm (with the carriage return lever adding about 1–2 more centimeters in height), making it quite portable at least for the time's standards, even though its 3.7 kg (8.2 lb) weight may limit portability somewhat.

A side view of the Lettera 22
A front view of the Lettera 22
The Lettera 22: "Wikipedia, l'enciclopedia libera"
The Lettera 22

The model was eventually succeeded by the Olivetti Lettera 32.


The Lettera 22 is an oblique frontstroke typebar typewriter. The typebars strike a red/black inked ribbon, which is positioned between the typebar and the paper by a lever whenever a key is pressed; a small switch located near the upper right side of the keyboard can be used to control the strike position of the ribbon, in order to print with black, red, or no ink (for mimeograph stencils).

Ribbon movement, which also occurs at every keypress, automatically reverses direction when there is no ribbon left on the feed reel; two mechanical sensors, situated next to each wheel, move when the ribbon is put under tension (indicating ribbon end), attaching the appropriate wheel to the ribbon transport mechanism and detaching the other.

The Lettera 22 uses a basket shift or segment shift (that is, the unit including the typebars moves up and down when shifting, as opposed to the carriage shift system). The Lettera 22 is quite compact compared to other 1950s portable typewriters using a basket shift, such as the Smith Corona Sterling or Remington-Rand Quiet-Riter.

The Lettera 22 also features a tabulator setting and clearing system that is controlled from the keyboard, and an innovative margin release that does double duty as a paragraph indentation key (it indents a paragraph when it is held down as the carriage is returned).


For the Italian market the keyboard is in the QZERTY layout, as with most Italian machines (excluding modern computer keyboards). Aside from the typing keys, the keyboard includes a space bar, two shift keys, one caps lock key, a backspace key and a margin release key. Of these, only the backspace key bears a mark on it (an arrow pointing right), while the other five mentioned are left anonymous.

The character set conspicuously lacks the numbers 0 and 1, which are supposed to be substituted by uppercase "O" and lowercase "l". Although this may seem like a strange absence today, this was actually common on older typewriters.[2]

Also lacking are the keys for uppercase accented vowels, some of which are present in Italian; however, these characters aren't typically found on modern keyboards, either.

The keyboard for the American variant is in the QWERTY layout. Although the character set lacks the number "1", presumably to be replaced by the lowercase "l", the "0" is present. One key has the fractions ½ and (shifted) ¼, while another has ¢ (cents) and (shifted) @. A British version is slightly different.[3]



é " ' ( _ è ^ ç à ) -
q z e r t y u i o p ì
a s d f g h j k l m ù
w x c v b n , ; : ò


2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 & ° +
Q Z E R T Y U I O P =
A S D F G H J K L M %
W X C V B N ? . / !

In popular culture[edit]

The Olivetti Lettera 22 is mentioned on pg. 15 of Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel Inherent Vice.

The novelist Will Self,[4] poet and singer Leonard Cohen[5] and actor Tom Hanks[6] have expressed use and ownership of this typewriter.

Indro Montanelli, the famous Italian journalist and newspaper director, used his Lettera 22 almost everywhere: a monument - inspired from a famous photo of him taken in the 1950s - in a Milan's public gardens Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli is dedicated to him and to his Lettera 22.

German writer Günter Grass had three Olivetti Lettera and typed his work exclusively on this machine: In Portugal, in Germany (Schleswig-Holstein, his home), and in his house in Denmark.

American writer Joan Didion mentions her Olivetti Lettera 22 in her book ‘’Where I Was From’’, recalling that she typed her 1963 novel, ‘’Run River’’, on that machine.

William S. Burroughs replaced his Remington typewriter with a Lettera 22 in 1964.[7]


  1. ^ Olivetti design at Telecom Italia
  2. ^ On a computer keyboard, the numbers are compulsory because computers cannot interpret a letter for a number like humans can.
  3. ^ "Lettera 22 Instuctions: Cover". Flickr.com. 26 July 2009. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  4. ^ Clark, Alex (17 March 2018). "Will Self: 'The novel is absolutely doomed'". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  5. ^ Cohen, Scott (August 1985). "The Portable Leonard Cohen". Spin. p. 25.
  6. ^ Warner, Kara (17 July 2012), Tom Hanks' Online Series 'Electric City' A 'Different Brand Of Noir', MTV.com, retrieved 26 November 2012
  7. ^ Miles, Barry (2013). Call Me Burroughs. New York: Twelve. p. 426. ISBN 978-1-4789-8181-7.

External links[edit]