Just before winter recess, Special Collections and Archives received a very exciting new acquisition — an Optima portable typewriter! We don’t have a large collection of artifacts, but once we heard the story behind this typewriter we knew we had to have it for our collection. This particular typewriter was owned by alum David Lustbader ’65 during his time here at Grinnell College and in his years at law school.
The summer before his first year at Grinnell, Lustbader and his father visited a typewriter shop in Newark, New Jersey. There were two portable models available, the popular Olivetti and an Optima. According to Lustbader, the Olivetti was thin and light weight, while the Optima keyboard was not as flat. Lustbader preferred the Optima, which was manufactured in West Germany. His father, however, was very reluctant to purchase anything from Germany.
Lustbader’s father had good reason for not wanting to support German manufacturing. During WWII, he had worked in the shipyards in Kearney, New Jersey, building Liberty Ships. Additionally, several of his father’s close friends, including the best man at his wedding, had served in the army during the war. However, he relented when he saw how much his son liked the Optima. In a fun twist to the story, during his second year at Grinnell, Lustbader became good friends with a German exchange student named Wolf Grabendorff. The two remain good friends to this day.
According to Lustbader, all of his school papers and correspondence during undergrad and law school were written using his Optima typewriter. The Optima owned by Lustbader is an Optima Elite, which was manufactured between 1955 and 1961. Amazingly, the original owner’s manual and cleaning brushes are still inside the case. The manual details helpful tips such as how to type capital letters and change the ribbon, and explains the movement of the carriage. The typewriter and its accompanying case are in beautiful condition, showing how much care they were given during their years of use.
We encourage anyone with an interest to drop by Special Collections and examine this typewriter in person. Special Collections and Archives is open to the public 1:30–5 p.m. Monday through Friday and mornings by appointment.