Depression-era portables

The Great Depression was a hard time for the big companies and the regular folk alike. In order to stay afloat, the typewriter manufacturers had to figure out a way to sell their product to a public that had little or no money. Out of necessity was born a class of stripped-down, no-frills typewriters that all but the poorest could afford. Most of these can be found coming from the years 1932-1935, but some were made right into the early 1940s. They were typically marketed euphemistically as "student" or "children's" typewriters, for no one wanted to be reminded that they were poor. This family of portables were generally made in small quantities and as cheaply as possible. Thus, not many have survived to today. These machines provide a tangible connection to a very difficult time in our nation's history.

The Corona Junior was made from 1934-1941, and constitutes Smith-Corona's only real product specifially aimed at Depression-stricken customers. It's not significantly different in body style from its larger siblings other than being slightly smaller. The body may be a reworking of the earlier, short-lived Improved Four.

The Junior was also available in a Model S which included a backspace feature, but was otherwise identical.

Probably no company produced more economy portables in the 1930s than Remington. They sold several machines which were all essentially similar. Some, in fact, were the same machine sold under different names in different markets.

The Cadet was a late entry in the field--this one was built in 1939--but it's a direct carryover of other no-frills Depression typewriters like the Remie Scout and Remington Junior (as we'll see, "Junior" was a popular name for this class of machine).

The Remie Scout was very similar to Remington's primary #2 portable, but with most of the nonessential options removed. There were actually four different versions of the Scout; the one shown at left from 1934 is the most advanced, having not only upper- and lower-case letters, but an enclosed frame! The 1932 Monarch Pioneer name variant shown below had the fewest features of the line, capable of only upper-case type and having no protective front frame or adjustable margin.

Monarch Pioneer

While many typewriter manufacturers turned their existing portables into economy machines by simply stripping out features, in 1932 Royal produced a completely unique machine. The all-caps Signet went so far as to have its own mono typeface created for it.

Note that even though the lack of a lower-case "L" forced the inclusion of a "1" key, there are still only nine number keys. Zero was sacrified, with the user expected to substitute the letter "O".

Royal Junior

Following the same market as the Signet, the Junior was Royal's later model aimed at Depression-stricken Americans. Like the Signet, there is no tab, backspace, margin release, ribbon color selector, or left-hand platen knob. Mounted in the center rear is a single left margin stop, eliminating the need for a right-margin bell. The shell is made of the thinnest sheet metal, easily pliable with your bare hands.

Side-by-side comparisons made by myself and fellow collector Richard Polt give strong evidence that the Junior is a direct evolution of the Signet Senior, as their internal workings are virtually identical. Collector Herman Price has recently come upon the so-called "mising link" that would seem to prove this: a Junior in the body of a Signet Senior, with Royal's standard glossy black enamel and a slightly modified spool cowel.

Some Juniors have a squared-off shell more closely resembling other Royal products. Serial numbers suggest that the rounded design seen here came first and evolved to the squared design around 1935.


Underwood made its own entry into the Depression market with the Junior. The Junior was not remarkably different from Underwood's other portables; they just removed all but the most rudimentary features. Even the left-hand platen knob has been abandoned. This machine is not easily identified, as the name Junior appears nowhere on it. However, if you come across an Underwood portable with no ribbon color selector, no left platen knob, and no margin, backspace, or tab keys, it's probably a Junior.

The German-made Bing reminds us that the United States was not the only country that experienced a Great Depression. The period between world wars was one of economic chaos in Germany. The monetary system collapsed and was reinvented several times as the fledgeling Weimar Republic desperately tried to stabilize the country. At its worst, a loaf of bread cost 200 billion Marks. People burned bundles of cash in their fireplaces because it was cheaper than firewood.

Although marketed as a lehrmittelschreibmaschine, or student typewriter, the tin and aluminum 1927 Bing was clearly aimed at a financially-reeling public that could afford few luxuries.

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