The Quest for Olympias
Beginning to type my manuscript on the little Royal Arrow gave me a tactile connection to the machines that I’d never had before. I had to research and find more about these curious creatures, partly as a practical matter, to get the typewriters in working order, and partly to find out what other options there were. So far, I’d only had Royals. What else was out there?
A name I ran across frequently was Olympia. Certain of their typewriters were supposed to be the best, a marvel of German engineering and some of the finest machines to type on. Harlan Ellison continues to write with the Olympia SG-3. In fact, the standard of their line was described by some as the Cadillac of typewriters. I had to have one.
The first opportunity came when I spied an Olympia portable on eBay, the SM-9. Turned out the seller was not that far away, so I drove down to pick it up. It is in excellent condition and works like new. The feel of the keys is very nice, and much more forgiving than the hard glass keys of the old Royals that I own. It still scooted around a little because even though it is big, it’s still a portable. If I had only been interesting in writing by typewriter, I probably would have stopped here, but I was obsessed.
I wanted to get my hands on the Cadillac of typewriters, with a paper loading lever that looked a bit like the arm of a slot machine. I wanted an SG-1 (no relation to the Stargate crew). I found one on eBay for a reasonable price and purchased it. It took about two months to arrive. By the time it showed up, I had given up on the sellers, and assumed that I’d been taken for a ride. Instead, they were just very slow and had no idea how to pack a typewriter. It came in a big cardboard box loosely stuffed with bubble wrap. The SG-1 had probably rolled around like tennis shoes in a dryer while in transit. It smelled like the bottom of an ashtray (a smell that is apparently more common to old typewriters than has been my luck to find) and it didn’t work.
In a fit of impatience while waiting on the SG-1, I had bought an SM-3. This is the 1950s version of the Olympia portable. They are the best-looking Olympia machines of the bunch. The one I found on eBay was a sort of creamish-tan with an odd italic typeface. It also suffered from subpar packing–there was a slight scuff on the top where it had come loose in transit. And there was a problem with the spacebar not fully engaging on occasion. With a little ingenuity, I was able to fix that problem.
The SM-3s are solid little typers. Their action is as smooth as any I’d tried up till that point (spoiler: the Hermes eventually win out) and they are really comfortable to type on. The only thing that I don’t like about them is the carriage shift–having to lift the carriage with my weak pinkies is not fun. Perhaps my fingers would strengthen up over time, but I prefer the basket shift of the SG-1 and later SM-9. (Where the typebars themselves raise and lower instead of the whole carriage.)
With my newfound confidence after repairing the minor issue with the SM-3, I turned more seriously to the SG-1. I don’t recall exactly what was wrong with it… I believe one bar had simply become disconnected during transit–apparently a common problem. I almost felt bad for demanding a partial refund from the eBay sellers, but remembering the sorry packing job they’d done, I got over it. After all of the frustration and anticipation of being able to type on the Cadillac, what was my impression?
If any SG-1 lovers are reading this, I’m sorry. The downside of old typewriters is you can never really know if how they type now reflects how they performed new. Someone else may have one that’s in better condition than mine that I would love. Maybe if I knew better how to perform maintenance on mine, it would work better. But after all of the blood, sweat, and tears, the SG-1 simply didn’t do it for me, even with all of the cool buttons and features.
My last Olympia was another SM-3. This one I found on Craigslist, but in Michigan. While we were on a family trip up there, I’d checked to see if there were any interesting typewriters in the vicinity. I did mention that I’d been obsessed for a while, right? This one is a little maroon number than is in just about mint condition. It looks great and types well.