Since readers know that I type drafts on manual typewriters, I regularly get questions about what typewriter to get. I enjoy manual (mechanical, non-electric/electronic) typewriters, so I decided to write a post on Quora that I decided to post here as well.
If you don’t own a manual typewriter yet, but want to get into writing on typewriters, don’t go for a pre-war machine like this gorgeous 1938 Erika ‘S’:
“Why not? It’s pulling at my heartstrings!”
Yes, I know. That’s why I collect these machines:
And the thing is, they are marvellous typemachines. Ifthey work. These Erikas do, but they’ve been lovingly maintained by someone who knows how to service and repair these machines. If you don’t know how to replace a drawstring or adjust the carriage or unstick sticky typebars or re-align the type, you’d have to outsource the servicing and repairing and that would be a pain in the ass, because there aren’t many typewriter shops anymore. Even the regular use of these machines can be difficult.
For instance, check the spools on the Erika ‘S’. Beautiful open metal spools. If you buy ribbon, it comes on cheap plastic spools and you’d need to re-spool the ribbon onto these spools, because apart from looking ridiculous on these machines, plastic spools are made for modern machines, not these pre-war machines, because they require heavier, more balanced metal spools.
“So, what should I get?”
Get a segment-shift typewriter, made between 1955–1969, from a brand like Royal, Remington, Smith Corona, Erika, Optima, Olympia or Olivetti.
To print capital letters, you need to shift the type to use the upper part of the slug (the print part that hits the paper). Typewriters basically have two ways* of shifting: by lifting the whole moving carriage up (carriage shift) or by lowering the ‘basket’ with the typebars deeper into the machine (segment or basket shift). The latter is way less strenuous on your pinkie fingers, which — if you touch-type — handle the shift keys.
If you don’t have strong type-fingers yet, go for the segment-shifted 1969 Olympia SM9:
Rather than the carriage-shifted 1959 Olympia SM4, especially one with an extra-wide carriage:
Nice mechanical machines for a beginner, while still being appreciated by professional typists, are Olivetti Lettera (portable) or Studio (desktop), Olympia SM9, Erika 10, pre-1970s Brother, Smith-Corona, Royal, and Remington. Most of these brands have been around since before 1955, so pay attention that you get a segment-shifted model.
Don’t buy a typewriter made after 1970. With the introduction of the personal computer, many typewriter factories tried to compete by using cheaper materials and mass-production, so the quality of typewriters, even those made by renowned brands, deteriorated sharply.
*Most pre-war machines, like the Erika 5 and S above, have carriage shift.The Erika on the picture far left is the Modell M and it has a partial carriage shift in the sense that only the platen (the rubber roll with the paper) is lifted, but that’s unusual.