Tim’s Museum of Obsolete Tech 6

Olympia Traveller de Luxe

Typewriter, front view, with mug for scale. The typewriter is shorter than the mug.

While researching the history of my mid-size Olympia Regina de Luxe typewriter, I learned of the Traveller model, the last of the compact portables from Olympia. It looked vaguely familiar. I may have seen one when I purchased my no-frills Eaton’s typewriter in early 1980s. I remember eyeing a very cool and very compact typewriter, but it was far out of my price range.

Now that I’m older, like my wealthier and cooler peers who buy a Camaro because they dreamt of owning it in high school, I sought out an Olympia Traveller. It was not hard to find one.

Typewriter in beige plastic case.

One of my discoveries from this foray into typewriter collecting is that typewriters are not rare, especially the later portable models used at home. They are still in many homes. Had I not moved so often, I might still have the ones I bought in the 1980s and 1990s. A couple of my acquisitions have been one-owner machines from estate sales.

Olympia Travellers are not just common from their relative youth and rugged-by-nature design, but from their long period of manufacture – from around 1970 to at least 1987. And they are not a preferred machine for typing enthusiasts. There are compromises made to achieve the small size, such as carriage shift instead of the lighter basket shift. My Olympia Regina de Luxe is a more comfortable and capable machine. The Traveller also reflects cost-cutting compared to previous compact portables from Olympia.

Side view of typewriter, with mug for scale.
I love the side profile of this design.

This is still a very impressive typewriter. First, it is small. The Speedwriter is lower, but comparing the Speedwriter case to the Traveller with its cover, the height is the same, and the Traveller footprint is an inch shorter in each direction.

Top view of typwriter.

Though compact, it’s a hefty ten pounds, due to sturdy construction. The base, top, and sides are steel, and only the side trim and the tight-fitting cover are plastic. While the keystroke is not quite as refined as the Regina, it’s still far smoother than my Speedwriter, and it has an adjustable key sensitivity control – something the larger Regina lacks.

The Traveller came in three trim levels: Standard, de Luxe, which added features such as multi-colour ribbon, and de Luxe S, which somehow crammed tab stops into this package. Mine is a de Luxe.

Top view of typewriter, with ribbon cover removed.

There’s a carriage lock, a full set of 88 characters, and thoughtful touches like a pop-up paper rest that’s released by a small button. Some controls are small or in slightly awkward locations. For example, the margin set levers are in the back, below the roller. The ribbon selector offers red, black, and stencil. Like the larger Regina, there are plastic guides with spacing marks and holes for drawing lines with a pen or pencil.

UNIS stamp in the frame, identifying the manufacturer.

The earliest models were made in West Germany, but production soon moved to what was then Yugoslavia, where they were built by a company called UNIS (Udružena Metalna Industrija Sarajevo). UNIS sold these typewriters under other brand names, and with various character sets, for eastern European markets. There are few changes despite the move of production and the long production run. UNIS models have that name stamped in a few places (along with the year), and eventually the rear ID plate was dropped (but the mounting holes remained). By the late 1980s, reflecting corporate changes, the typewriters were branded AEG Oympia.

The year the frame was cast is stamped near the serial number. This was 1977.There are twelve spaces around the year, which may indicate the month.

Olivetti licensed this design to make similar typewriters (the Tropical and the Roma) in Brazil, and Olympia used the same case (but with simpler and cheaper mechanisms on the inside) to make Olympiette models. The Olympiette was manufactured by the Nakajima company of Japan, which built typewriters for various brands. In other words, there are a lot of typewriters out there that look like the Traveller, but are not quite the same.

Nakajima, which made printing equipment and sewing machines, started making typewriters in 1965. They were inspired by the success of Brother in selling white-label typewriters through American department stores. By 1968, Nakajima was making 15,000 typewriters a month. Production peaked in 1983, with 100,000 typewriters per month. We think of the 1980s as the start of home computers, but typewriters were still going strong. Nakajima still sells new (electronic) typewriters, though the machines are now manufactured in China and Indonesia.

Later models lack an ID plate, but the holes to attach it remained. The margin set levers are visible here.

With the Traveller, I consider my collection complete. I have an office manual, an office electric, a home manual, and two portables covering my childhood and youth. I’ve asked myself if a typewriter collection can truly be complete if it lacks an IBM Selectric, but the proprietary ribbon and my inability to repair it with simple hand tools make it less desirable. It is essentially an electronic typewriter, and that’s not really an obsolete technology. Besides, I have other obsolete tech to write about, coming in future blogs.

Categorized as Writing

By trc

Freelance writer, freelance editor, web consultant, and film studies scholar.

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