An Olivetti Valentine red typewriter circa 1969. If there is one post-1920s typewriter that deserves a place in any museum, it is the Olivetti Valentine, a design by Ettore Sottsass.This space-age machine, that was built in 1970, can be found in many collections of industrial design. Mechanically, the machine is not fundamentally different from the average machine that was built half a century earlier.
Today, Olivetti is the only Western company still producing manual typewriters.
Ettore Sottsass (14 September 1917 – 31 December 2007) was an Italian architect and designer of the late 20th century. His body of designs included furniture, jewellery, glass, lighting and office machine design. Sottsass was born on 14 September 1917 in Innsbruck, Austria, and grew up in Milan, where his father was an architect. He was educated at the Politecnico di Torino in Turin and graduated in 1939 with a degree in architecture. He served in the Italian military and spent much of World War II in a concentration camp in Yugoslavia. After returning home in 1947, he set up his own architectural and industrial design studio in Milan. In 1959 Sottsass began working as a design consultant for Olivetti, designing office equipment, typewriters and furniture. Sottsass was hired by Adriano Olivetti, the founder, to work alongside his son, Roberto. There Sottsass made his name as a designer who, through colour, form and styling, managed to bring office equipment into the realm of popular culture. Sottsass, Mario Tchou, and Roberto Olivetti won the prestigious 1959 Compasso d’Oro with the Elea 9003, the first Italian mainframe computer.
Throughout the 1960s, Sottsass traveled in the US and India and designed more products for Olivetti culminating in the bright red plastic portable Valentine typewriter in 1969, which became a fashion accessory. Sotsass described the Valentine as “a brio among typewriters.” Compared with the typical drab typewriters of the day, the Valentine was more of a design statement item than an office machine.
Sottsass had a vast body of work; furniture, jewellery, ceramics, glass, silver work, lighting, office machine design and buildings which inspired generations of architects and designers. In 2006 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art held the first major museum survey exhibition of his work in the United States. A retrospective exhibition, Ettore Sottsass: Work in Progress, was held at the Design Museum in London in 2007. In 2009, the Marres Centre for Contemporary Culture in Maastricht presented a re-construction of a Sottsass’ exhibition ‘Miljö för a ny planet’ (Landscape for a new planet), which took place in the National Museum in Stockholm in 1969.