1970 - 1974
Olivetti & Co Spa. for Montgomery Ward
Not all modern typewriters are horrible, even if they are primarily comprised of ABS plastic (gasp!). The Ward Escort 55 is a stellar example that proves that all ABS is made the same. In my opinion, it is much too underrated and underappreciated.
The timeline that led up to the manufacture of this typewriter goes something like this:
Olivetti, having a hard time in the American marketplace with just its brand, gained market share by acquiring struggling Underwood in 1959
In 1963 Underwood officially became Underwood-Olivetti in the US
All Underwood labeled typewriters in the mid-to-late 1960s were simply rebranded versions of an Olivetti
In 1969 mail order/department store Montgomery Ward contracted Underwood-Olivetti to design and produce a rebranded version of the Lettera 32 to be available exclusively through its stores
In 1970 a design patent was filed by an Underwood-Olivetti employee for the housing and case of the Ward Escort 55
Production began within a couple years at the Olivetti factory in Barcelona along side the Lettera 32 and Valentine
The patent (patent no.3,623,783) was filed for by Reginald R. Gallant (1925 - 2011) of Bristol, Connecticut. He worked for Underwood-Olivetti at the Hartford site from as early as 1963 and until the company relocated overseas. His first patent for for Underwood-Olivetti was for an "adding machine cover mechanism" while the last was for this Escort 55.
The Escort 55 is a brilliant synergy of Pop Art coolness and industrial design practicality. Its bold yellow color nearly screams off the machine while simple lines define its contours. Because it was built around the Lettera 32, the typewriter works great too while delivering a pleasant typing experience. Gallant really deserves more recognition for this inspired design, and the machine itself should find its way into more collections. I know that the Escort 55 is just a rebranded Olivetti Lettera 32, but is the Olivetti Valentine just a repackaged Lettera as well?
Dating these typewriters is a little tricky. However, most of the examples I've had or have seen online have a "Century 2" logo towards the top-right of the yellow casing. This logo was first used by Montgomery Ward in 1972 to commemorate its centennial. By 1973 the logo was gone from its catalogs. My assumption is that the Escort 55 was released in 1972 with the logo and without it during the following year. I've had one of these with a white casing, without the Century 2 logo (it had the number 55 instead) and with a higher serial number. These were also available in tan, yellow, red or black, primarily for overseas markets and relabeled as Underwood No.330s.
As of yet, since collectors haven't quite warmed up to these Escorts (pun intended), they can still be found at surprisingly reasonable prices. That may change.