Our 2019 debut item for Artifact of the Month is this adorable Corona XC-R Yiddish typewriter. The serial number 640285 dates this typewriter to 1929, when Smith & Corona Typewriters, Inc. was manufacturing portable folding typewriters popular with journalists and home users. The company’s 1920s manual boasts that its product is “extremely simple in construction and operation, there being only 692 parts as opposed to 2,000 or 3,000 in the ordinary machine.”
The techniques necessary for typewriter construction grew up alongside gun manufacture, as both required precision metal parts. The first typewriter manufacturers, E. Remington & Sons, in the early 20th century split to become Remington Arms and Remington Typewriter Co. Likewise, Smith-Premier typewriters were first manufactured at a gun factory in Syracuse, NY. In 1926, the Corona Typewriter Company merged with L. C. Smith and Co., to become Smith & Corona Typewriters, Inc.
Like the earlier Corona Model 3, the Corona XC-R was small, portable, and tough, an appealing alternative to the larger machines offered by Remington and Underwood. The typewriter carriage lifts up and folds forward, to fit into a square carrying case.
In 1924, the Los Angeles Times ran an advertisement for the Corona-Pacific Typewriter Co., highlighting its range of typewriters “for all foreign languages” with “Reverse movement carriage for languages like Yiddish and Arabic.” The R in the XC-R model name referred to this right to left carriage direction. Even the numerals in the first row run right to left, from 0-1.
Perhaps as a consequence of its compact size, the Corona XC-R featured a modified Yiddish keyboard, capable of typing both Hebrew and Yiddish but missing several keys common to other Yiddish layouts. The inclusion of the komets aleph, in the upper left corner, indicates the machine was meant for Yiddish. The omission of the double letters could be overcome by simply typing the yod and vov multiple times. Unlike some earlier typewriters, the XC-R included three characters on each key, with CAP and FIG keys to shift the carriage up.
Unfortunately, we do not know the provenance of this item or who owned it before it found its way to the JHSGH collections, but its owner would have been in good company. The XC-R model was used by playwright Abish Meisels, a central figure in the New Yiddish Theatre on London’s Adler Street, as well as Chicago journalist Morris Indritz, publisher of the Yiddish quarterly, Yom Tov Schriften. The Jewish Museum London and the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, respectively, feature these items in their online collections.
A 1926 advertisement in The American Israelite, pictured here, describes the XC-R alongside the newer Corona Model 4:
“For some of the old folks who still cling to the Yiddish language; there is the XC Yiddish Corona with all the old characters and reverse carriage movement for typing in Yiddish.”
For more information on Yiddish typewriters, please see this excellent blog post, The Lost History of the Yiddish Typewriter, by translator and Professor of German and Yiddish studies, Nick Block, and The Story Behind the Yiddish Book Center’s Yiddish Typewriter Collection.