I was going to wait until later to do this post, but I couldn’t resist. The latest post in my “Writing Tools” series is about my favorite typewriter, my 1972 Olympia SM9.
My Kingdom for a Typewriter
In my search to find a proper typewriter, I’ve owned and used many machines. I’ve gone through brands like Smith-Corona, Remington, Olivetti, Royal, and a bunch of others. I’ve read many reviews and recommendations, but if you’re looking for a typewriter to do a substantial amount of work on, a lot of them fall short. Most of the reviews online drip with nostalgia, so it’s really hard to get an idea of what’s a good workhorse typewriter.
So, if you’re like me, raised in an era where typewriters were rare and obscure, it becomes a process of elimination. And boy, have I eliminated typewriters: typewriters that are too light and dance around when typed on, typewriters purchased because famous authors used them, others because of online reviews, some because they looked nice, and some for the hell of it.
One typewriter I bought for the hell of it was my Olympia SM9. I had read something about it, and in a fit of impulse, pulled the trigger and purchased one for a good price. I wasn’t really in love with it, it looked kind of “meh,” you know, that 70′s look, but I was willing to give it a shot.
It arrived packed snugly in a gigantic cardboard box on my doorstep, the UPS guy must have loved lifting that heavy thing. I didn’t know it when I bought it (the purchase being impulse and all) but it has a 12″ carriage, so when I pulled it out of its gargantuan black case I was a bit shocked at first sight.
Holy crap this thing was massive! It was heavy, wide and unwieldy, and not very pretty. The white plastic parts had discolored to a smokey yellow, and it was very, very, dirty. Like most typewriters when you buy them second hand, this one really needed a bath and then some.
I was not impressed.
I got a piece of paper and put it in the machine. The platen turned with a crescendo of clicky high-pitched squeaks, but it fed the paper properly so it could have been a lot worse. I typed some words and it worked, the ribbon was still working as well, which was nice.
Things were improving, and it turned out that all the mechanical components were in great condition, it just needed a good cleaning, which it received.
At the time, I had four typewriters, all of which soon fell into disuse because I was warming up to my SM9. It just felt better and didn’t move around when I typed on it because it was so damn heavy. Soon enough, two of my older typers from the 1920′s retired into the living room as decoration, the other ones just stayed in their cases.
I’ve since sold all my typewriters except for the SM9 and a portable Olivetti Leterra 32, which is also nice to bang a few words out on, but very far from the SM9, which is the workhorse that I looked for all these years.
I’ve even warmed up to the look of it, which consists of sparse and straight lines, a very functional design. It looks like it could fit into a swanky 1970′s decor, but it’s also slightly reminiscent of the Bauhaus design style, which I can appreciate. One feature that I thought was very a beautiful touch is the hood style cover to get to the ribbons and machine internals. Instead of having to operate in a very restrictive area, the entire thing just opens up and gives access to the entire machine.
Call me crazy, but when you remove the white cover altogether, it kind of reminds me of one of the Cylons from the reimagined Battle Star Galactica. A dark red cast iron frame lurks beneath a collection of grey and chrome metal, it’s really quite beautiful to look at. The image on the left doesn’t really do it much justice, but that’s all I can accomplish with my limited photography skills.
For the last three, almost four years, the SM9 has been my main machine, I’ve written most of my first drafts on it, and wrote my daily journal entries on it for two years. It has become a good friend, but there were some things that could use improvement.
There was some rust on some of the components, and those discolored plastic parts never really cleaned up to their original white. I scoured eBay for a while until I came across a $10 SM9 that looked descent and I purchased it right away.
I’ve dubbed it “Frankenstein,” since I’ve been taking off its good parts and sticking them onto my main machine. All the bad, rusty, discolored parts are accumulating on this $10 machine, and it’s really only good for parts since it’s banged up pretty bad. For a minimal investment, I now have years worth of replacement parts, ensuring my future with my favorite machine.
If you can find a good 70′s SM9, I cannot recommend it enough as a daily typer. This a fine piece of West German engineering, heavy, durable, reliable, and if treated right, will probably outlast you for a very long time.
P.S.: Some folks on eBay charge an arm an a leg for an SM9. Don’t overpay, there are plenty of these still around in great condition for far less money.