Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

The keys to American hearts

They say a picture paints a thousand words, well this Italian design masterpiece has created millions of them. The Lettera 22 typewriter is considered a classic, and to this day is one of America’s most-loved design icons.

Designed by Marcello Nizzoli in 1950 while working at Olivetti, the Lettera 22 quickly gained popularity for its elegant push buttons, streamlined design, red and black ink and (relative) portability. It still weighed in at 4 pounds, but at the time was lighter than most models and came with its own carrying case, making it perfect for journalists to pick up and work on the move.

Regarded as “the queen” of mechanical typewriters, it won plenty of awards for Nizzoli, including the prestigious Compasso d'Oro in 1956. Chances are one of your family used to own one, or maybe even still have one tucked away in the attic. They’d be in good company. Proud owners of the Lettera 22 include Leonard Cohen, Tom Hanks and MoMA New York who have an original Lettera 22 on display in their permanent design collection. 

One thing that might surprise you about the Lettera 22 is the keys. To save on space, it has no zero or one key. To make those numbers you had to use the shift key with the I and O. Look closely and you may find another quirk. Like most original Italian typewriters, the now ubiquitous qwerty keyboard (designed to reduce keys locking, by maximizing distance between the most used letters) switches the positions of the W and Z – the result being: qzerty.

Photos by - Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, Ivrea - Italy