The mechanical and portable typewriter designed in 1950 today is considered a work of modern art

Letter 22, Olivetti’s mechanical and portable typewriter is certainly one of the icons of Italian design of the 1950s. It has been one of the company’s most successful products. And, thanks to its functional portability and compact aesthetics, it received award s on both sides of the pond. In Italy, in 1954, in  it won the ‘Compasso d’Oro’ award, the first world design prize, born from the cultural intuition of Gio Ponti. Whereas in the US, the Illinois Institute of Technology chose it as the best design product of the last 100 years, in 1959.

Marcello Nizzoli, Olivetti’s collaborator since 1938, designed it between 1949 and 1950 with the technical supervision of the engineer Giuseppe Beccio. In 3.7 kg, it condensed the avant-garde design and functionality. It was sold with a cardboard or imitation leather case, which increased its portability. A lever made it possible to adjust the position of the tape, switching between black, red or no-ink. To save space, the keyboard didn’t have the numbers “1” and “0; they were typed as were missing on the keyboard. To simplify, they were obtained with the capital ‘L’ and ‘O’. Moreover, there weren’t any letters with accents, so those that needed it were followed by an apostrophe.

Once the Lettera 22  interpreted  with an unmistakable style the tactile and auditory fascination of the era of contact and sound, the rustle of paper and the grinding of rollers. Today, the sound of its printing hammers is now only memory, but its presence is strong in many design museums, including the MoMa in New York. It is also a coveted piece of furniture for collectors and enthusiasts.

Ilona Catani Scarlett

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