PICA, ELITE, AND…

From our occasional Department of Things Everyone Knows:

In the days of typewriters, every American knew that there were two “pitches” of type: Pica and Elite. The “pitch” was the number of characters per inch of typed text. Pica, the standard for most work, was ten characters per inch. Elite, often preferred for correspondence because of its neater appearance single-spaced, was twelve characters per inch.

Like most facts every American knows, this fact is wrong, because it relies on limited American experience. Once you cross the Atlantic, all bets are off, as we can see in this comparison.

Top to bottom: Royal HH (Pica), Olympia SF, Royal Quiet De Luxe (Elite), Olivetti Valentine.

The Olympia is from West Germany; the Olivetti is from Italy. The Olympia writes at about eleven characters per inch; the Olivetti at eleven-and-a-half-ish. Why is this? Clearly it is because Germans and Italians do not use inches. They use foreign satanic Metric incantations to measure length. When you abandon the simple sanity of twelve inches to the foot, sixteen and a half feet to the rod, four rods to the chain, then everything falls apart, and you might as well do what you like.