Monday, July 15, 2013

Consumer Reports' vs. the Olivetti Lettera 22

Olivetti Lettera 22

Tower Chieftain

I was reading reviews of various portable typewriters in Consumer Reports, when I noticed a discrepancy between the reviews of the Olivetti Lettera 22 and the nearly identical Sears Tower Chieftain. In 1957, Consumer Reports rated the Olivetti Lettera 22 as "Fair". (All compact portables that were available in 1957 were rated "Fair.") However, they much prefered the identical Sears Tower Chieftain. They stated
"None of the very small portables rated better than Fair in overall quality. One of the best of them was also the lowest-priced of the group, the Sears Tower Chieftain, $59.50 plus shipping."
The only difference between the Chieftain and the Lettera is the fact that the Lettera has a tabulator. In 1960, after Olivetti purchased Underwood, Consumer Reports suddenly liked the Lettera 22; they rated it as "Good"--it rated highest among lightweight typewriters. The only difference between the 1957 Olivetti Lettera 22 and the 1960 Lettera 22 is the addition of the Underwood name before the word "Olivetti" Other than the new name, the only other difference is the color; the 1957 is khaki, and the 1960 model is blue. By 1966, the Lettera 22 had been replaced by the Lettera 32. This typewriter was rated as "Good" The Lettera 32 was technically the "Olivetti-Underwood Lettera 32" in the United States. Before the Underwood/Olivetti merger, Consumer Reports did not like most Underwood portable typewriters--in 1957, the highest rating received by an Underwood was "Good." In 1948, Underwood Portables were considered "Fair." In 1946, Underwood's portable was rated "Not Acceptable." However, in 1941, the cheapest Underwood, the Leader, was rated a "Best Buy," but only when priced at $29.75 (Montgomery Ward's sold the Leader for $10 less than the list price of $39.75). In 1937, which was the year of Consumer Reports' first Portable Typewriter test, Underwood portables were rated as "Also Acceptable" (fairly high up in this category). Despite the ratings given to Olivetti portables, many writers love the Lettera series of portable typewriter. Recently, Cormac McCarthy's Lettera 32 sold at auction for $254,000. He used it from 1963 until 2009, when he replaced it with a different Lettera 32. The only maintenance McCarthy's typewriter received was the occaisonal cleaning with a gas station air hose. Source

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