Saturday, March 26, 2011

آلة كاتبة عربية

Here's a typing sample from Ned Brooks' Arabic Olivetti Lettera 32:

An early Erika folding (#3032):

A few stages in the evolution of the Erika, 1910s - 1950s:

My '50s Erikas (left to right: Erika 10 #1909032, Aztec 700 Super #1976404, and Arabic #2000670). The Arabic machine lacks several features of the others and has old-fashioned round metal keys, even though it's newer. I believe the others are both the "Super" version; they include include touch adjustment and tabulator, among other things. On the left of the keyboard is a lever for disentangling typebars, and a "+" key for setting tabs.

There are plenty of small differences among these machines. Consider the line spacing markings:

There are more differences under the hood. On the left (#1909032), a decal from VEB Schreib- und Nähmaschinenwerke Dresden (Volkseigener Betrieb, or "People's Enterprise" Dresden Typewriter and Sewing Machine Works -- the socialist successor to Seidel & Naumann). On the right (#2000670), no decal and a different system for securing the hood.

The Arabic Erika and its capitalist rival, an Olympia SM5:

The Olympia's logo:

Let's take a closer look at the Arabic Erika:

Who can tell me what these decals say?

The shift key is a work of calligraphic art:

For those of you who want to get into the nitty-gritty of proportional typewriting, here is a close-up of a non-proportional mechanism (#1976404) and then the Arabic, proportional mechanism (#2000670). Click on the pictures for big versions.


And finally, here is Ned's Arabic Lettera.

Wikipedia article on the Arabic alphabet

Marty Rice on the Aztec 700


  1. Fascinating, and maybe worth learning a little Arabic?

  2. Man, that is a beautiful script. You should do a typecast entirely with it. Great history lesson on Erika too - I'm learning quite a lot today (:

  3. Fascinating - some of my best & favourite machines are Erikas, and I was planning to do a more indepth comparison of different models - I take your entry as incentive to go ahead with it.

  4. I would love to see a systematic overview of all the Erikas.

  5. It may be worth sending an email to Andrew Exum, who posts a blog under the name Abu Muquawama. Here's the link:

  6. Exum's blog is on military and political issues; the theme of this typecast is purely linguistic and mechanical. I do have a colleague who studies Islamic philosophy and reads Arabic; I may press him into service deciphering those decals!

  7. Ok, this is an amazing bit of typewriter scholarship, but I most enjoyed the image of you typing at the regional dance competition. Being a parent takes one to the strangest places. Perhaps I should bring my Olympia SF to the next preschool Chuck E. Cheese party...

  8. Ah, I see I'm not the only one doing side-by-side closeups of typewriter guts today. Much cooler machines though.

    You're right about that magnetism of these Arabic machines, you could imagine certain persecuted groups in the region using one of these right now to ensure secure transmission of forbidden ideas.

  9. First decal: Al neel, which should mean The Nile.
    Second decal: too unclear to read
    Third decal: Continental

  10. Thanks, m.!

    Although the machine clearly is an Erika design, the names of socialist enterprises were often swapped around. Continental had been an Eastern German typewriter manufacturer. I think it did not last long after the establishment of the German Democratic Republic, but the name apparently was preserved on this Arabic typewriter.

    I wonder whether "Al neel" indicates that the typewriter was sold and used in Egypt.

  11. Uh, Richard, why is the carriage return lever on the left on an Arabic typewriter? How does that work?
    == Michael Höhne

  12. Michael, you simply push the lever to the left instead of to the right. Notice that the levers on my Continental/Erika and my Olympia are both shaped for this use.

  13. great stuff, are you willing to sell the Arabic ones, let me know please, here is my email:

  14. Hi, do you know if Olivetti lettera 32 came out in the Greek alphabet? my email

  15. I am interested in buying an Arabic typewriter. If you know where I can find one, please let me know. my e-mail

  16. Hello,

    Do you still have the Arabic Typewriter for sale?

  17. Replies
    1. Hi, do you still have one for sale?

    2. I do, but can only ship in the continental US.