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QUESTION:  

My grandfather had an old Corona portable typewriter which he left to me. It’s a small machine with the No. 3 on the rim below the space bar. I believe the serial number is 125512. I’ve looked for some information on it but haven’t found much. Can you tell me more about it?

Thanks,

Carol

 

 

 

______________________________________________________

ANSWER:  

Your typewriter dates from the second half of 1917 and is part of a long line of machines created to make writing easier. It began in 1714 when Queen Anne of England granted a patent to Henry Mill for a writing device that enabled the blind to write. Italian inventor Pellegrino Turri created his own version of a typewriter in 1808, along with carbon paper to provide the ink for his machine.

In 1829, William Austin Burt patented a machine called the "Typographer" on which he produced a letter to Secretary of State Martin Van Buren. But even in the hands of its inventor, this machine was slower than handwriting, preventing Burt and his promoter John D. Sheldon from ever finding a buyer for the patent. The typographer used a dial, rather than keys, to select each character and resembled the squeeze-style label makers of the 1970s. It wasn’t until 1843 that Charles Thurber invented a machine that operated in way similar to modern typewriters.

It was 1843 before Charles Thurber came up with a rather slow untidy machine that actually typed in a manner recognized today. A number of inventors working independently or in competition with each other over several decades came up with a variety of machines that resemble the typewriters people used to use.

Rev. Rasmus Malling Hansen of Denmark invented the Hansen Writing Ball in 1865. It went into commercial production in 1870 and became the first commercially sold typewriter. He made a porcelain model of the keyboard and experimented with different placements of the letters, attaching the letters to short pistons that went through the ball and down to the paper to achieve the fastest writing speed. By placing the letters so the fastest writing fingers struck the most frequently used letters, Hansen made his Writing Ball the first typewriter to produce text faster than a person could write by hand.

In 1867, Christopher Latham Sholes invented the first practical typewriter. Commercially known as "The Type-Writer," it had a moveable carriage, a lever for turning paper from line to line, and a keyboard similar to that of a piano with two rows of black walnut keys with letters printed in white—capital letters only along with numbers 2-9, a comma and a period. Sholes also created the QWERTY keyboard layout to prevent frequent jamming of frequently used letters.

Philo Remington of the Remington Arms Co. manufactured the first marketable Sholes machine in 1874. He sold only eight the first year at $125 each. And after four years he had only sold 5,000. Three businessmen bought and reinvigorated the company under the name of the Remington Typewriter Company in 1878.

The machines—whether the fancy "sewing machine" model with a treadle to work the carriage or the unwieldy tabletop model—were still costly. Inexperienced operators found the process more time-consuming than writing. The biggest battle was people’s resistance to change.

When in 1881 the New York YWCA offered typing lessons to girls, there were protests that said the "delicate female constitution" couldn't handle the six-month trial. But soon girls in high school were taking typewriting courses.

The history of the Corona typewriter is similar to these other early models. The four Smith brothers— Lyman Cornelius, Wilbert, Monroe, and Hurlburt—opened the Smith Premier Typewriter Company in 1886. They produced the first typewriter to use both uppercase and lowercase letters using a double keyboard. The advertisements for their new machine proclaimed that it had "a key for every character."

The girl typist soon became the symbol of women's emancipation, "David L. Cohen wrote in his 1940 book The Good Old Days. And when typing merged with shorthand the female office worker became invaluable. By 1900, Cohen noted, 206 women out of every 1,000 over the age of 16 were employed in business and services, with stenographers earning from $10-20 a week.



Nonetheless, the typewriter was an idea whose time had definitely come. "We live at railroad speed in the nineteenth century, and all aids which enable us to do the work of life well and quickly should be recognized and adopted when feasible," Cassell's Family Magazine proclaimed in 1888. And that's just what happened. Prices slowly adjusted, as did the size and accessibility of the typewriter with a burst of improved models and determined manufacturers onto the business scene.

During 1906, the Rose Typewriter Company of New York City marketed the first successful portable typewriter. The Smith brothers bought the company in 1909, renamed it the Standard Typewriter Company, and moved its headquarters to Groton, New York. And with the success of their Corona model No. 3 in 1914, the firm became the Corona Typewriter Company.

By that time, the design of the mechanical typewriter had become standardized. While there were minor variations from one manufacturer to another, most typewriters had keys attached to a typebar that had the corresponding letter molded, in reverse, into its striking head. When the operator struck a key briskly and firmly, the typebar hit an inked ribbon, making a printed mark on the paper wrapped around a cylindrical platen mounted on a carriage that moved left or right, automatically advancing the typing position horizontally after the operator typed each character. The carriage return lever advanced the paper vertically for each line of text as it rolled around the platen.

By about 1910, the "manual" or "mechanical" typewriter had reached a somewhat standardized design. There were minor variations from one manufacturer to another, but most typewriters followed the concept that each key was attached to a typebar that had the corresponding letter molded, in reverse, into its striking head. When the typist struck a key briskly and firmly, the typebar hit a ribbon, usually made of inked fabric, making a printed mark on the paper wrapped around a cylindrical platen. The platen was mounted on a carriage that moved left or right, automatically advancing the typing position horizontally after each character was typed. The paper, rolled around the typewriter's platen, was then advanced vertically by the "carriage return" lever into position for each new line of text.

Manufacturers inked some ribbons in black and red stripes, each being half the width and the entire length of the ribbon. A lever on most machines allowed switching between colors, which was useful for bookkeeping entries where negative amounts had to be in red.

A significant innovation was the shift key. This key physically "shifted" either the basket of typebars, in which case the typewriter is described as "basket shift", or the paper-holding carriage, in which case the typewriter is described as "carriage shift." Either mechanism caused a different portion of the typebar to come in contact with the ribbon/platen. The result is that each typebar could type two different characters, cutting the number of keys and typebars in half and simplifying the internal mechanisms considerably. The obvious use for this was to allow letter keys to type both upper and lower case, but normally the number keys were also duplexed, allowing access to special symbols such as percent (%) and ampersand (&).

Until recently, antique dealers considered old typewriters worthless, but prices of them on eBay have begun to climb. Of course, higher prices only appear for the most unique models in excellent condition. A Corona No. 3 model from 1917 ranges in price on eBay from about $50 to $190 without its case and $400 for one with its case.

 

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