One day in Provence, wandering round a run of the mill brocante (think slightly upscale boot sale) amidst the Paul Ricard glass sets, Michelin ashtrays and old road signs, spotted this. A legendary lipstick-red Olivetti Valentine typewriter, with case, in almost perfect condition. Mine for 50 Euros. £250 upwards on Etsy. A rare white Valentine, you are approaching £1000.
The Olivetti Valentine is not just a typewriter, it is a moment in design, function meeting pop art. Designed by Ettore Sottsass in 1969 to break the bonds of pure function, it is arguably the forerunner of the Apple iMac. Sotsass himself declared: “When I was young, all we ever heard about was functionalism, functionalism, functionalism. It’s not enough. Design should also be sensual and exciting.” Commercially and technically unsuccessful it has become a design classic, and lives in permanent residence at London’s Design Museum and NYC’s MOMA.
Created in white, green and blue, but most famously lipstick-bright red with black plastic keys and white lettering. Said Sottsass: “Every colour has a history. Red is the colour of the Communist flag, the colour that makes a surgeon move faster and the colour of passion.” The plastic case unit previewing the dawn of the laptop 20-something years later. In fact the office is the last place Sottsass wanted it, preferring that it should ‘keep amateur poets company on quiet Sundays in the country or to provide a highly coloured object on a table in a studio apartment.’ Design aficionados will recognise the principles of Sottsass’ 1970s Memphis group, famous for its funky coloured postmodern furniture.
There is an almost forgotten refreshing physicality to a typewriter. Redundant in the 21st century (the last British typewriter – the Brother CM-1000 – went offline in 2012) it reminds me of the difference between driving a manual car after an automatic. Somehow you feel more in control. I even like the way different key force creates variation on the page, and its unique. And yes it is retro-romantic. Woody Allen still produces every script on his old typewriter, Hemingway didn’t write Death In The Afternoon on a tablet. And despite the joys of Tippex, like an ‘analogue’ versus digital camera, you have to take more care over your composition. Less instant and more precious.