from spoon to city

Vintage advertising poster for Olivetti Typewriters

There are two sounds I have great affection for: the clip clop of horse hooves and the sound of a typewriter key hitting paper.  Typewriters are having a revival.  It could just be nostalgia or it could be a longing for focus.  One of the most famous and sought after typewriters is the Lettera 22 by Olivetti.  Kay Bea Jones, 2015 Bogliasco Fellow  gave a lecture last night entitled “Community as Catalyst, The Case of Olivetti (1933-1960).  Adriano Olivetti was a very unusual guy:  a progressive, a humanist and a visionary.
Olivetti transformed the work environment for his workers, not only in the architecture of the factory buildings themselves, which were light filled, but in his social concern for his workers.  By the 1950’s, Olivetti employed over 14,000 people working Ivrea, Italy.

1912 poster for Olivetti’s M1 Typewriter depicting poet Alighieri Dante

Home schooled, Olivetti viewed his role as not just an employer, but a creator of a community.  He increased salaries, provided innovative housing for his workers, developed a pension system, introduced holidays, and built nurseries, child care facilities and libraries for his workers.  As Kay Bea Jones said Olivetti was concerned with everything “from spoon to city.”

One of the most famous of Olivetti typewriters, Lettera 22. Ad designed by Giovanni Pintori

His showrooms and advertisements employed cutting edge designers and architects.

Olivetti showroom New York City 1954

Olivetti showroom New York City, 1954, marketing outside the showroom

During World War II, Olivetti was exiled to Switzerland for his political beliefs. He was strongly antifascist. He remained in Switzerland from 1944 until 1955. During this period, he formed a publishing company, bought the rights to books by Hemingway and other famous writers in order to educate his workers as well as distributing these works to people in Italy.

1953 Olivetti Lettera 22 poster designed by Raymond Savignac

It was fascinating to learn about Olivetti and his avant-garde ideas. But I keep coming back to the typewriter itself.  I love my MacBook Pro and I lust after the Olivetti Valentine.

One of the most famous Olivetti typewriters, The Valentine 1969.

Don Delillo: “sculpts” his books. “I need the sound of the keys, the keys of a manual typewriter,” he told one interviewer. “The hammers striking the page. I like to see the words, the sentences, as they take shape. It’s an aesthetic issue: when I work I have a sculptor’s sense of the shape of the words I’m making. I use a machine with larger than average letters: the bigger the better.”

Will Self: “Writing on a manual makes you slower in a good way, I think. You don’t revise as much, you just think more, because you know you’re going to have to retype the entire fucking thing. Which is a big stop on just slapping anything down and playing with it.”

Promotional poster for Olivetti typewriters from FHK Henrion Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives

The kings of the literary typists, though, was probably Jack Kerouac. The Beat master’s ability to hammer out 100-plus words a minute may have helped him convey his loose, quick-fire thoughts, but it also prompted Capote’s uncharitable observation: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

1960 Olivetti advertisement designed by Christian Montone

Community as Catalyst:  The Case of Olivetti, 1933-1960
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo
A Talk By Kay Bea Jones
2015 Bogliasco Fellow

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