For those who like to write for the joy of it—whether using pen and paper or the tablets, laptops, and smart phones that many are so accustomed to today—it is fun to remember a stylish portable manual typewriter that predates our mobile electronic devices.
Introduced on Valentine’s day, 1969 (hence its name), the playfully bright red Valentine portable typewriter, designed by Ettore Sottsass, Jr. with Perry A. King, was a radical departure from the ubiquitous businesslike metal-housed typewriters of the time. Sottsass chose to use a bold Pop Art red plastic housing to show that the Valentine was intended more to appeal to writing for recreation rather than work. He said his design was “for use in any place except in an office, so as not to remind anyone of the monotonous working hours, but rather to keep amateur poets company on quiet Sundays in the country or to provide a highly colored object on a table in a studio apartment. An anti-machine machine, built around the commonest mass-produced mechanism, the works inside any typewriter, it may also seem to be an unpretentious toy.”
The Valentine’s low-profile rectangular shape is made to grab and go, with a built in handle in back and a close fitting sturdy box-like carrying case of the same material. The light-weight vibrantly colored plastic housing is set off by two bright yellow button-like ribbon spools and bright black keys that entice the user to settle in, touch, and type. Like other machines of its day, the Valentine provided audible cues that the writer was making progress, from the punch of the metal typebars against the paper, to the ding indicating ‘time to push the carriage return lever and advance the page.’
The Valentine was manufactured by the Italian company Olivetti S.p.A., known for its typewriters and office equipment since the first decades of the 20th century. The company was also recognized for its attention to design. Olivetti engaged Sottsass in 1957, and he became the designer-consultant for the company’s new electronic products division. Sottsass strove to solve problems inherent in the relationship between the user and machine, and to engage the user on an emotional as well as practical level. The colorful Valentine certainly achieved this.
Today is Typewriting Day