Whew! Yeah, I actually took a whack at the nightmare that is the Smith-Corona Serial Number Page at TWDB this past week, but unlike recent forays into the jungle I decided to focus on one specific model: the Corona 4. The serial number table for Corona 4 was basically a line-for-line copy of OMEF 73, and like OMEF, contained no explanation for the serial numbers given. Pretty much just a confusing jumble of numbers and letters.
A better source was S.L. Johnson’s page on Coronas. Johnson had one resource that Dirk Schumann did not: the 1927 Business Machines and Equipment Digest. This source illuminates Corona’s date coding and serialization method greatly, and Johnson modeled his page on BMED 27 very heavily and explains the date coding and color coding (for DUCO-finished machines) very well. There are some ambiguities, though, and I sought to incorporate Johnson’s findings into the TWDB and clarify the ambiguities.
First, as I always do when tackling one of these projects, I gather up all of my serial number sources and make copies of the relevant sections on Corona. I cracked open all the books and read for 3 days while sorting through the data. With Johnson’s shoulders to stand on, I followed his lead and looked first at the earliest data. Two of the earliest sources stood out immediately:
[BMED 27] The Business Machines and Equipment Digest, by Equipment Research Corp., Chicago, 1927. We have a copy of this source thanks to Mark Adams.
NOMDA 41 is very interesting for a few reasons:
- It breaks down the production run of the Standard Folding #1 and #2. Bonus! in combination with BMED 27, it gives us a pretty clear list for this model, which is usually lumped in with the Corona 3 in other sources. Now the TWDB has a section for Standard Folding!
- NOMDA 41’s numbers proved to be December numbers, or the *last* serial number reported for the given year. In combination with BMED 27’s usually January numbers, it gives us a *range* of production for the entire year for these early Coronas.
- It was published right as the Corona 3 and 4 ended, in 1941. Oddly, the Corona 4 numbers end in 1934 on this list, even though there is data for other models up to 1937. The list is very fresh, though – compiled while both the Corona 3 and 4 were still in production. NOMDA 41 is also the earliest list I know of for Corona, other than BMED 27, and it’s specificity suggests that NOMDA had direct access to Smith Corona’s production numbers.
- This table appears to be the source utilized by other sources. Starting with Berghagen 1953 (and 1962), which mirrors these exact numbers. It is typed using a manifold-style all-caps machine which prints the capital letter “O” exactly the same as the number zero “0”. This is important because all later lists for Corona seem to have been distilled from versions of this list and I believe this caused a certain ambiguity about serial numbers past 1934. As Johnson put it “There are curently no widely known guidelines to differentiate a Zero and the Letter O, expert guidence welcome.” We’ll come back to that later.
The first job was to split out the Standard Folding from the Corona 3 in the TWDB and put a proper start to the Corona 3 in 1912. Other than that and adding a few notes, I left the Corona 3 section largely alone, as it was fine as it was. Then I centered my Chi and dove into the Corona 4’s.
BMED 27 gives us the very first Corona 4 serial number, stating that it started in March of 1924 at serial number E200,001. Below this is a typo that states that “E” is the letter code for 1925, but this can be disregarded as it’s clear everywhere else that “H” is the year code for 1925. NOMDA 41 gives us the final serial number produced in 1924: E615305, which handily agrees with every other source and also establishes that Corona reported December numbers to requesting trade associations – something we should be mindful of in examining later documents which purport to be reporting January 1 numbers. Between these two sources, we have the complete range of Corona 4’s manufactured in 1924.
If the series number is to be believed, 415,304 Corona 4’s came off the line in that year. That seems like a lot – Corona had only pumped out about 600,000 of the entire Corona 3 line by 1924, and that’s counting the Standard Folding #1 and #2. However, this number is dwarfed by the Corona 4 output of 1925: BMED 27 shows the starting serial #H100,001 and NOMDA 41 shows an ending serial #H615,268, suggesting 515,267 units produced in 1925. That would mean that in two years, Corona had pooped out more Corona 4’s than the number of Corona 3’s that had ever or would ever be made, even by the end of the run in 1941. Around 700,000 Corona 3’s, plus Standard Folding 1 and 2’s were made between 1906 and 1941.
1925 was a big year for Corona in another way as well – with the Corona 4 selling like hotcakes and Corona’s coffers full of cash, it was merger time. Corona merges with L.C. Smith & Bros. to form “L.C. Smith & Corona Typewriter Company” in 1925. The following January, a new serial numbering system was introduced for the Corona 4 which now disguises the full production output. A Month Code is introduced, 1 through 6 with each number standing for a 2-month production series. Since we only have the final serial number produced in each year, we now only know the production of the final 2 months of each year from then on, but we can make educated guesses from that information.
BMED 27 gives us the first serial number of 1926: 1K00,001. This confirms Corona’s new starting series (from now on, starts with 00,001 in January) AND the switch from Year Code and six-digit serial TO Month Code, Year Code and 5-digit serial. Even though BMED 27 stops in 1926, that is exactly all we need, to know what the starting serial will be in following years. We now know enough to fill in the missing bits of the list.
Production of Corona 4:
1924: 415,304 (E200001-E615305)
1925: 515,267 (H100001-H615268)
1926: >100,000 (1K00001-6K15244)
1927: >100,000 (1L00001-6L10825)
1928: >66,000 (1M00001-6M10503)
1929: >78,000 (1P00001-6P13063)
1930: >45,000 (1A00001-6A07479)
1931: >18,000 (1B00001-4B02992)
1932: 1,816 (5B00001-5B01151 and 1C00001-1C00665)
1933: 6,011 (1C00666-1C02162 and 1D00001-1D04515)
1934: >400 (1EO0001-6EO0065)
1935: >1,200 (1HO0001-3HO0305)
1936: >1,200 (1KO0001-6KO0200)
1937: >2,400 (1LO0001-6LO0400)
1938: >1,200 (L1MO0001-L6MO0200)
1939: >2,500 (L1PO0001-L5PO0500)
1940: >2,000 (L1AO0001-L3AO0100)
1941: 934 (L3AO0101-L3AO1035)
You’ll note that I put “greater than 100,000” for 1926 and following years. This is because we only know what was produced in Nov/Dec of each year due to the new serial numbering system. We can presume that November and December were slow months for Corona parts manufacturing as production orders were mostly filled and there were plenty of parts to assemble already. Add in the holidays, and one would expect to see parts manufacturing slow down drastically at the end of the year. Thus 15,244 units produced would be very low to use for an average over 6 production cycles. If we just average that number we get something over 100,000 units produced over the whole year, which seems low compared to 1925’s roaring success. Thus we have to assume that the previous 5 cycles averaged something along the lines of 30,000 or 40,000 units, for a total closer to maybe 400k-600k. Under that theory, 1926 and 1927 were likely as successful as 1924 and 1925 had been, but we just can’t see the exact number produced.
In 1928 through 1930, though, we see Nov/Dec production drop to about half what it previously had been. Still a lot of Corona 4’s being moved, maybe as many as 200,000 or so a year. Still a success, but popularity is starting to wane. By 1931, production abruptly stops in September or October. The final serial number is Month Code 4. Something is in the works that draws resources from manufacturing. That something is a batch of new models that will be produced in 1931 through the rest of the 30’s. This seems to throw Corona 4 production into chaos. In 1932, Corona again starts manufacturing in January, producing 2162 Corona 4 frames, but strangely assembling and releasing only 665 of them, along with 1151 machines assembled from parts that had been manufactured in Sept/Oct of 1931 and bearing “5B” serial numbers. This actually, odd as it is, gives us a solid number for 1932 production of the Corona 4: 1,816 for the entire year.
Clearly, the 1930’s saw the popularity of the Corona 4 plummet. Less than 2000 made in 1932, and although 1933 was better at 6,011 (similar use of leftover parts and a production run in Jan/Feb gives us an exact number for 1933 too), Corona 4 production would never reach greater than 10,000 units a year again. The Depression and fancy new segment-shifted models from Smith-Corona and other manufacturers left it in the dust. Production limps along like this, perhaps anywhere from 1000 to 8k or 9k units per year until January of 1940, when one final run of 1035 frames are built. Only 100 of them are assembled that year, and the rest were most likely shipped to a company in Philadelphia to be assembled along with the last of the Corona 3’s in 1941.
That’s where the Corona 3 and 4 story ends, in that building in Philadelphia in 1941. That’s not where the serial number story ends, though. There’s one more mystery to be solved…
“There are curently no widely known guidelines to differentiate a Zero and the Letter O, expert guidence welcome.”
— S. L. Johnson
There you have it in a nutshell. This is the nut that Johnson couldn’t crack, and that I cannot crack without the help of you Typewriter Hunters. Every single one of you with a Corona 4 should (if you choose to accept this mission) take close-up, well-lit photos of your serial number and add it to the machine’s gallery in the TWDB. Those of you with those newfangled iPhone microscopes, please go nuts. What I’m looking for is a serial number where a capital letter “O” can be distinguished from the number Zero “0”. Just finding out that it *can* be distinguished is key, so if your serial number qualifies, it’s very important you get a good photo and add it to your gallery. Here’s an example photo from my machine:
I’ll have you know that I was briefly very excited to see what looked like a clear differentiation between two sets of four digits, the first 4 seeming brighter and deeper than the last 4. This might have meant that I had an r2po5175 serial number from 1939 rather than an r2p05175 one from 1929. This is just an artifact of the paint flaking mostly from those characters, though, and the characters are all stamped uniformly on close examination. I’m safe in thinking this is r2p05175, a 1929 serial number anyway because 5175 is drastically high for March/April 1939 production, and fits easily into the expected range of March/April 1929 production, about early part of mid-march maybe.
Anyway, Typewriter Hunters TO YOUR CAMERAS! get us some nice well-lit close-ups of those serial numbers and get ’em uploaded! Take a moment to ponder your serial number as you focus. What does it tell you about your machine? Where does it fit in this new serial number list? Will it all prove to make sense? Only *YOU* can prove it, one way or the other.
SELAH – RRTM
Sidebar: you know in sci-fi movies set in the future where the antagonist will plug into some immersive virtual reality “network” and get down to “hacking the mainframe” by reaching out with his hands and grabbing images and folders in the air around him and throwing them around? That’s what it feels like when I tackle a project like the Corona 4 list. I sit with a stack of photocopies of serial number lists and reference books, everything I can possibly dig up. I read it all, and re-read it, and start looking stuff up on the intertubes. then I open up Copernic and search my PDFs of ETCetera magazine (what issues I have in PDF, anyway) & read all that. then I sleep and I dream. The dreams are where I throw the bits around until the things whizzing around me collide and stick. Answers form from these sticky bits…
Q. Why the serial number change in 1926?
A. Because of the merger in 1925.
Q. Why the occurrence of 1931 datecodes in production attributed to 1932 and likewise 1932 datecodes in 1933?
A. Because Manufacturing (frames built and stamped with datecoded serial numbers) is different from Assembly (machines assembled, painted and distributed to dealers, and reported to trade associations). Also, demand had dropped drastically and new models had been introduced, throwing existing production schedules out of whack and causing more frames to be built than were needed for the year. Duh, the Depression.
Q. Why would Corona drop the “O” from the year code and go back to a 5-digit serial number in 1938 when production was so low that the extra digit would never be used?
A. They didn’t. Everyone since 1941 has misinterpreted a list typed in a manifold typestyle where the “O” is indistinguishable from a “0”.
Q. Why the small batch of 1941 models with 1940 datecodes?
A. Because the final Corona 3’s were assembled in Philadelphia in 1941 from parts made in 1940. It’s very probable that the last of the 1940 Corona 4 parts went there as well to be assembled in 1941.
…and so on. Facts coalesce and other facts form orbits around them in a dizzying symphony, and smaller bits lock together to form larger bits, all pieces of a puzzle that takes shape in the dream. A complete picture of a production run of three of the most important and popular portable typewriters from 1906 to 1941 that starts in a small workshop in New York and ends in a small factory in Philadelphia. In the morning, the pieces fall into place into rows on a table. A row for each year, a few sentences to explain important context, and a list of where the pieces came from.
And they say sleep is for the weak.. Pshaw. (: