Dave's recent post comparing form vs. function for typewriters generated a comment asking about five top picks -- that is to say, five great looking machines with details of the operation of each. Dave told me that I should give it a whirl, even though it was his topic, so here we go. In no particular order after the first one..
1. ABC / Cole-Steel This typewriter, introduced in the 50's in Germany and before the end of that decade here by license, was styled by Prof. Wagenfeld in a very modern and smooth style for that day. In fact, the styling of the machine isn't what we'd think of here as "50's" .. it's in advance of it in some ways, behind in others and frankly just timelessly classic. What's even more impressive is the total perspective approach that Wagenfeld took with the casing which means that the machine is attractive from all angles and elevations. Normally, the carriage side or rear of a typewriter is fairly uninspiring but on the ABC the machine is appealing stylistically from all 360 degrees of view. The optional hammertone paint colors available make the move from attractive to almost stunning. Operationally the ABC is a smooth, accurate machine with a fairly positive key action, fairly solid carriage operation and decent if not excellent auxiliary controls. It could be said that the machine looks better than it types, but it would be really difficult to match the styling with any typewriter that would fit the size envelope.
2. Alpina The Alpina in its most commonly seen form is attractive enough, but in the two-tone color schemes found on late versions is exceedingly attractive. There is something about the top cover styling combined with the other lines and curves on the machine that give it the exact, perfect 50/50 combination of stylistic elegance and mechanical impressivness / mass that you would hope for in the perfect portable. Once you take that exterior and combine it with the incredible quality and feel of the Alpina's internals, you have a combination that's very hard to beat. The only reason I put the ABC above this machine overall is that the ABC's styling is just that much more refined, thought out, and complete that it gets the nod.
3. Smith-Corona Super 5. I can't stand these machines with white keytops, but I love 'em with green or any other color. I prefer the earlier ones, like the original Silent as introduced at the end of 1949. I don't like the later pastel colors. Having said all that, you can mark me down as actually liking the styling of these machines. Compared to many other offerings, its elegance lies in the degree of understatement.
4. The late Underwood portables. See here. You can't get much more overstated than some of these, stylistically (especially some in the round-top variant) but all of them are somewhere from cool to fantastic, style wise. Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of these machines and their intrinsically weak shift feel. Definitely obvious why Underwood had lost the lead in sales years back and no amount of fabulous style could get around that. That said, I think they're very highly collectible and I look for them.
5. Consul 221. See here. This may seem an odd pick, but frankly this machine looks like it works and like it feels. Although ZB clearly didn't understand anything about colors that would work in Western countries' households before the end of the 60's, it got everything right with the 221. In either the two-tone white/gray or the gray/blue (see both at the link) the machine is attractive and modern-looking. (Modern in a late 60's sense, that is.) The combination of lines, the spaced letters spelling "Consul" across the front, the block keytops, and the cleanliness of the carriage details and controls (very cleaned up from previous models) gives a wholly satisfying look and a look that says that the machine is ready to work. Work they do- they're not Super 5's, but they're solid, tight, more precise than any other Consul machine, and as ruggedly attractive as earlier models were awkward. This might well be an award for "best style recovery."
I could go on and on, and could easily go to standards (Is there a better looking standard typewriter than the Victor No. 3?) but we did say five form/function comparisons. What would be interesting would be to try this the other way - are ugly typewriters always below average machines? Maybe that's another blog another day.