Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Underwood Universal Light Blue Portable Typewriter (1950s)


Before Underwood was acquired by Olivetti sometime in the 60s and the name "Olivetti Underwood" appeared on Olivetti's Lettera and Studio models, Underwood was a fine American typewriter manufacturer with a large line of well-respected portable and standard machines, many of which Alan has documented on his site. This Underwood Universal is identical to Alan's, actually, except in a different color and without tab functions.


I was excited to find this machine - until now, my experience with Underwoods has been Olivetti-influenced, and I have read that the Underwood 319 and Underwood 19 have no resemblance at all to the earlier machines manufactured in the USA. So when I snapped open the box and found this gem, I was ecstatic. For all its pedigree, it is also a very good-looking machine.


But then I saw that it had an AZERTY keyboard, and I hesitated. I shall admit that the French layout has always caused me some bewilderment. I have made my peace with QWERTZ these days, but AZERTY? Between all of the keyboard switching, I am rather typo-prone these days. However, despite the keyboard, I was smitten. The machine was in fantastic condition, has an all-metal shell, and a precise, crisp touch. The icing on the cake was when I pressed the "U" logo (which has "Golden Touch" written above it) and this happened:


Just like popping open the hood of a car. On the left is the touch control lever, with five possible settings.

But, back on the subject of typing. The machine has a small, 12 characters per inch elite font:


I find the font crisp and clean, and were it not for the fact that I need to hunt and peck with the azerty keyboard, I'm sure that I could type reasonably fast on this one with no problem. The only thing I am looking into fixing is the type slug for the letter r, which is a bit loose resulting in a weaker impression on the lower part of the letter. A spot of strong glue will fix that, I hope.


The case for the Underwood Universal looks like a piece of vintage luggage, with its wooden frame and brown and ivory vinyl trim. The hinge and handle are sturdy, and although this is a moderately heavy typewriter, the case is perfectly capable of supporting and carrying it.

I am listing this one in the "For Sale" section, as I have other metal-bodied 50s machines with elite fonts and do not have much space for this one. However, this would be a great piece to display and use... I can even see this being used as the "typewriter guestbook" at a wedding, that's how pretty it is! I'll enjoy having it around until it goes, that's for sure.

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