This is the plastic bodied Empire Corona made in the 1960’s at what had been the British Typewriter Co. factory until it was taken over by Smith Corona. It replaced the metal bodied skywriter which was also sold under the name Empire Corona. This is the last time Empire appears on any of the typewriters and later models were badged Smith Corona.
This review is by Form Five Com, some of my old school class and we were the shorthand typists from the 1960’s. It is also just as much of a test to see if we are as anywhere as good as we were or thought we were.
The machine cost £12.10s.0d. twelve pounds ten shillings (£12.50) and was just about the cheapest typewriter you could buy. This was, in 1969, the same as the weekly working man’s wage before overtime. The lightweight construction of the machine with its plastic casing is very vulnerable and has resulted in a very frail typewriter. The self destructing lid had several cracks and pieces were missing. The plastic does not like being left in strong sunlight and the key cover is prone to warping quicker than a 1950’s Hornby toy train set if left in the sun and the colour bleaches out. Not the sort of typewriter then that would make a good display item.
Just for fun we decided to see how well it did on the sort of homework we did and so we did a transcription exercise from the 1969 shorthand magazine, Memo, which was formerly Pitmans Office Weekly price threepence which we all had to do each week.
Reading the shorthand went well without resorting to the shorthand dictionary. Paper handling is not of the highest order. The paper bail is printed with the only scale on the typewriter and this tends to get wiped off with use. If you fail to get the paper loaded straight then adjusting the paper with just one sheet of headed paper and a backing sheet can be a bun fight as it is so tight. With one original and two carbon copies it turns into a tug of war. This is the same with other machines from the same stable including one new or rather unused model with a tabulator which we tested later. The Corona does not have a tabulator. The print from the typewriter was not so good, we would rate it as ‘passable’, okay for homework and the odd letter but not for anything else. These typewriters together with the tabulator models like the Calypso were tested by Which magazine and others and rated the print as poor, with wavy lines of typing and misplaced letters. We would not agree with this and place most of the problems with the typists testing the machines. It is not a very forgiving machine and fast typing without allowing the keys returning will result in letters printed too high and low or just leaving a space. A steady typing rhythm was always taught at school and the Corona will reward the good typist with a neat printed document and punish others.
These machines often have user added features like bent keys and non working shift, shift lock and space bars particularly if they have taken a hammering. This machine was not too bad in this respect and correcting three bent strikers improved the print to an ‘acceptable’ level and bending the space bar back to where it was supposed to be improved the typing no end! The keyboard is BSI (British Standards Institute) compliant and had the kite mark tag on the machine. It is, we found, an easy typer, fast and comfortable, just very unforgiving to those learning touch typing.
SPEED AND ACCURACY
This is where we really lost the plot and it all went wrong. We found it to be a fast machine to type with and resulted in high speeds being achieved but it was also our downfall. Any mistakes carry a five words per minute penalty and even we managed a few letters ‘squished’ together. During the test the left hand carriage knob fell off. This is retained by a very small grub screw and you will need a set of small Allen keys to keep this machine nailed together. We duly attached a sticker with the legend ‘Warning parts may fall off’ to the machine. Nevertheless, we did achieve speeds in excess of 80 wpm before we had to stop. A small piece of metal hit one of us in the face when using the carriage return lever being part of the mechanism to rotate the platen to the next line. Another label was attached ‘Warning wear eye protection’ to the machine. This is one very flimsy machine, the thin metal plate just not up to the job.
There is provision for line drawing but not for stencils which would require the ribbon to be removed. The ribbon spools are much smaller than usual and are no longer available in the UK so you have to re-use them when replacing a ribbon.
This was a truly dreadful typewriter, poorly constructed and really not up to the job. This machine was well past it’s best by date if it ever had one and was time expired suffering with metal fatigue. Nothing seemed to fit properly and even the key basket was higher on the left than on the right side. Not all of these machines ended up in a land fill site and bad as they were, made in large quantities so they are not rare or collectible except as sixties memorabilia. These typewriters do have their fans though and we did get rather fond of it in spite of its terrible performance. It certainly gave us a very entertaining afternoon. A good one, little used should be okay for the occasional letter and such. This one had survived for a long time and is still usable, just.
We later tested a new Smith Corona GT Ghia which has the same basic mechanics and got a rather different result but we stand by what we said about this one, this is a truly dreadful typewriter.