Dora! Dora! Dora!

Typewriters are cool and functional. Well, so I’ve read. Decided quite a while ago to see for myself, and had been keeping an eye out for a practical machine at a low price in decent nick. Finally purchased one on the 25th of June 2016. Bought an Olivetti Dora from 1969 at the St Vincent de Paul ‘opp’ (thrift) store in Goulburn for $10. Came with a vinyl case — a bit perished — both spool nuts, and a ribbon with a single spool. I found a teflon tape reel from some plumbing work I had done and wound some ribbon onto it. With a few bits from the shed I was able to kludge a spool that works, though does not hold the full 10 yards, so I can use the device until a new ribbon is obtained.

The torn carry case.

The torn carry case.

I have given it a quick clean, not a thorough one, and it seems to work pretty well. I find the bell a bit quiet. As a portable, it has no ‘one’ key (use little el instead), and an exclamation mark is made from a dagger (single quote) plus a stop.

So it is pretty basic.

Top view.

Top view.

I have ordered a new ribbon from; was very reasonably priced at $10 including delivery. Cost as much as the machine, but I suspect that is common with typewriters.

Will I use it much?

I do not know. I learned to type on a mechanical portable, and I have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly the technique has come back to me, though I was never a genuine touch typist and I still glance at the the keys more often than I suppose I should.

With the cover off, showing the bodged-together left reel, (cork stuffed into a teflon tape reel). Work a treat!

With the cover off, showing the bodged-together left reel, (trimmed champagne cork stuffed into a teflon tape reel). Works a treat!

I am not a typewriter expert. This one seems all right. The ribbon reversing mechanism might need some attention, but that is about it for problems. From the little reading I have done since I bought it, the Dora seems to be considered a reasonable, cheap machine and no more; and I would agree.

The acquiring of it was motivated by, really, little more than nostalgia, I must admit. When I was fairly young — early high school, I would guess — I spent quite a lot of time messing around on my Dad’s portable machine. I don’t know what make or model. I wrote stories that went on and on and were either abandoned or ended in a cliché. But it was how I learned to type (insofar as I can), and was when I began writing the odd story, a habit which has not yet left me.

General view of my bog-standard Olivetti Dora.

General view of my bog-standard Olivetti Dora. I rather like the squared-off lines.

(As a result of learning to type on a mechanical portable, I tend to hit the keys pretty hard. I broke the ‘Enter’ key of a Mac (not that they are famous for being robust), and my preferred computer keyboard is an IBM M, a pretty heavy-duty piece of kit. I am told my typing, even on computer, is highly audible from a distance…)

I find kids are often quite fascinated by the machine. The hammers flicking out, the ribbon jumping up each time; I think they find the openness of it fascinating — they can see it working in a way that does not hold for a computer.

and all, banged out on the Olivetti Dora with an ancient ribbon of unknown age.

A sample of text, error and all, banged out on the Olivetti Dora with an ancient ribbon of unknown age, on the back of a used and grubby piece of office paper.

It has often struck me that the digital age is disconnected from the past. If you could send the Dora back in time to, say, Archimedes, he would be able to make a lot of sense of it. An iPad or even an electric typewriter would essentially be a brick. Yes, a mechanical typewriter needs infrastructure around it — paper, ink, ribbon. And the metallurgy in it, and the casting and so on, would be beyond the ancients; but the mechanism would make some sense, and might even provoke some nice ‘diversion’ of history, like a sci fi story.

He's from Barcelona...

He’s from Barcelona…

Anyway, now I am just typing to amuse myself, so it is time to take these pages (I am writing this post on the Dora), scan them (as outlined here), then fix all my errors. I can use search-and-replace to put in soft returns to remove the line breaks, and then proofread and spell check. Not terribly efficient, and I am sure the novelty will wear off pretty soon (between you and me, my original copy looks awful).





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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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