The ‘Not a Valentine’ – Sottsass’s Olivetti leather and steel bad girl.

Sottsass referred to his Valentine typewriter as a ‘too obvious tart’. And looking at the design, it is easy to see why. Inserting the typewriter into its case is described as a ‘woman sliding into her stockings’, while the design of the machine itself clearly displays a set of exposed – to paraphrase Richard Polt, ‘Areolae’. Which is exactly what they were meant to be.

They certainly weren’t meant to be eggs.

A photo of my Valentine, which I used in my blog earlier this year. 

The design is intensely sexual with it’s bold cues and hot red tone. It is unquestionably passionate in an era when much of the world was coming to grips with the rapidly changing state of sexual politics and attitudes. 
But I doubt someone would describe the design as ‘sensual’. It was boxy, smooth and sleek – but the design is bold, flirtatious and attention seeking while lacking any real intimacy. These aren’t shy machines, secluded wall-flowers that look for a quiet life. 
Sottsass’s approach was consistently lacking in subtlety, and his designs called out at you with lurid intensity more than any other consumer product of the era that wasn’t sold in stores that had blacked out windows. He just didn’t do sensual.
However the Valentine wasn’t the only design that exploded with such sexual boldness. While the Valentine has more unique design points (some may suggest novelty design points) than other typewriters, Sottsass had a hand in another design that harked back to the era of the pin-up queen Bettie Page, and the mail-order photographs of her that were filled with leather, rope and steel. 
I speak of – the Olivetti Lettera DL. Also known as the Lettera 33.
Boldly dressed in leather, the DL is skirted by faux metal caging that locks around the shape. It flirts with a little red Tab button, but the design of this typewriter is razor sharp, and unforgiving. This is a typewriter that is fast, bold and not the kind of machine you take home to your mother. 
The case itself continues the metal look. It is the same shape and the design as the Lettera 32 typewriter’s case, but is toned to a dull steel that is bound in black leather that holds the whole look together. 
The design across the front holds a leather brow across the top of the keyboard as though it is Bettie Page’s famous bangs framing the keys, which are locked into a trance with the writer. 
But it is a playful machine. It is a dress-up of the more respectable day-job dressed Olivetti Lettera 32. While the L32 is the machine that dons the sensible shoes and tries to fit in with its environment, the DL/33 is an animal that is looking for a night of action and adventure, that didn’t want to just sit at home watching television. 
This is undoubtably the bad-girl that is the counterpoint to Sotsass’s ‘Too obvious tart’. 
From a writer’s point of view, this machine is better balanced than the Valentine and is much more comfortable to write on for lengthy periods. The plastic pleather coated shell is quieter than the tinny L32, and resonates sound from the type bars quite differently. Acoustically, it compares favourably against the Valentine too. 
In my opinion this is a superior machine to the Valentine, and to be honest much better suited to me as a writer. I feel a lot more at home with this machine than I do with the Valentine, and I certainly like it a lot more than the L32 that it is based on. I guess with all that leather and faux-steel I feel the love for it as a motorcyclist. 
It took me a while to get hold of this machine. I eventually stumbled across one on the Gold Coast earlier this year. After a bit of a cleanup, it was right to go, and I have used it several times since. 
While it doesn’t have the attention seeking novelty features of the Valentine, I find this design of Sottsass to be far more appealing. And I want to play. Oh do I want to play with this machine. 

13 thoughts on “The ‘Not a Valentine’ – Sottsass’s Olivetti leather and steel bad girl.

  1. I need to add the Lettera 33 to my wish list. I've seen them and hesitated to bid on any or buy any before. I've had the Valentine on my list nearly from day one. I've not chased after one due to the inflated cost, and generally over rating, of the machine. I've read many posts from those who have the Valentine and all seem to agree; meat looking, not so good typer.


  2. Hadn't seen the red cases but I have seen silver and black soft cases come with these. They seem to differ in badgeing and branding styles but they all have that “built for a space mission” look to them. Good write-up, thanks.


  3. Hadn't seen the red cases but I have seen silver and black soft cases come with these. They seem to differ in badgeing and branding styles but they all have that “built for a space mission” look to them. Good write-up, thanks.


  4. I'm not so sure. The Olivetti Dora had the 'bean' shaped keys first, and then went to the standard L32 square keys. I think it is probably a later version, which was cut down in cost. Silver vinyl dye at the time would have been more expensive than the red, and the red also has a simpler case. The keys would have been measure produced to reduce the cost by using the cheaper (and probably better to type on) keys.


  5. Thank you.
    I suspect that the manufacturing plant of origin has a lot to do with what branding and parts were used on the machine, as well as cost cutting variations being applied later in the models life.


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