My CoronaApril 5th, 2019
‘My mornings are all spent on the typewriter…’ (1)
Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) endures as one of New Zealand’s truly ground-breaking authors. Her surviving written material, as well as her personal belongings and indeed, her life and death, have been examined, analysed and published about for decades. Those who have studied her manuscripts can attest to her notoriously difficult-to-decipher handwriting. It was perhaps fortuitous, then, that she came to be in possession of a typewriter and used it enthusiastically or, depending on her health, had others type up her manuscript drafts.
Corona 3 typewriter formerly owned by Katherine Mansfield, manufactured 1920. Photos by Mark Beatty and Alicia Tolley, Imaging Services. Ref: Curios-018-1-010
L: Letter from Mansfield to John Murry written at the Villa Isola Bella, Garavan, Menton. First page of a two page letter. Letter begins "My precious darling. Your Friday letter has come and the new Tchekhov." 6 Nov 1920. Ref: MS-Papers-4000-36-21 R: Photograph of Katherine Mansfield, taken in Menton, France, in 1921 by an unidentified photographer. Ref: PAColl-6826-1-15-1
For part of this year, the Turnbull Library welcomes back Mansfield’s Corona 3 typewriter, on which she wrote letters and stories during the last two years of her relatively short life, including arguably her best works, ‘The Garden Party’, ‘The Doll’s House’, and ‘At the Bay’. The typewriter has effectively been away from the collections since 1992, when it was loaned to the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace, also known as the Katherine Mansfield House and Garden (KMHG), on Tinakori Road. Now the machine, along with its case, will be on display for the coming months in the Level One secure reading room of the Library, named in honour of Mansfield when the refurbished National Library building reopened in 2012.
Within the last 30 years it has been exhibited numerous times: at the National Library in 1988, 1995 and 1996; the Auckland City Art Gallery, 1996-1997; the Govett-Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth, the Robert McDougall Gallery, Christchurch, and Southland Museum and Art Gallery, Invercargill, all in 1997. In 1998 it was returned to the KMHG on long-term loan, but not before having a last turn on display at Museum of Wellington, City and Sea, 1999-2000.
The typewriter was donated to the Library by Mansfield’s long-time companion, Ida Baker, in 1971 and deposited by Mansfield scholar and then-Turnbull Manuscripts Librarian Margaret Scott, in 1972. Scott grew acquainted with Baker (or Lesley Moore (‘L.M’), as she was called, amongst other monikers) on her research travels to England and France as the second recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship, in 1971. In her fascinating 2001 memoir, Scott describes how Baker gave her ‘the little Corona typewriter’, which was ‘a very primitive affair but it still worked’. (2) It was destined for the Turnbull Library collections along with other mementos of Mansfield’s life donated by Baker.
‘I spend a large part of [the days] tapping out my new long story or short novel on my little Corona’ (3)
Before the typewriter was in Mansfield’s possession, it belonged to her husband John Middleton Murry (1889-1957), who bought it brand-new in March 1920. He had sold his old typewriter that month for £5.10.0, and put the money towards the new Corona, which cost him £15.15.0 (4) (the equivalent of about £670 today).
Mansfield’s first excited mention of the new typewriter was recorded on 2 April 1920 in a letter to Murry:
Your letter on the gnu [new] typewriter came yesterday. What a pearl it must be. Ive [sic] never seen one I liked better. It is so distinguished that its [sic] quite possible to write personal letters on it without feeling you’ve shouted them into the common ear – as you do with the old-fashioned kind. (5)
Portrait of Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry. Taken by an unknown photographer circa 1920. Ref: 1/2-028634-F
We do not know exactly when Mansfield began using the Corona on a regular basis, but from her notebooks we can assume it was sometime around mid-1920. From 1921 to the end of her life, depending on whether she and Murry were together or apart, the typewriter was always at her disposal, which probably means Murry finally relinquished ownership of it to her, as it went to Ida Baker after her death on 9 January 1923. Among Mansfield’s papers are also pre-1920 references to her (or Murry) typing up her work, presumably when Murry was in possession of the typewriter he eventually sold to buy the Corona.
This model of the Corona 3 was one of about 21,000 issued, manufactured as early as January 1920. (6) It was made in Groton, New York, with the unique serial number 284762. The 3 became the most common Corona model because it was small, light and compact, with the carriage able to be folded over the keyboard. It could then be stored in a purpose-made carry case and transported with ease, which would have suited Mansfield well; she changed address around eight times during her final two years.
The case also helped to minimise wear and tear on the typewriter, as this hard-working example demonstrates; for being almost 100 years old, it is in remarkably good condition. Perhaps this is in part thanks to Ida Baker’s abandoning her plan to let the children in her New Forest village of Woodgreen, practise on it:
‘…but no amount of practice would have helped them use a modern typewriter: the keyboard was totally alien and it was now simply a curiosity.’ (7)
‘J. is typing my last story The Garden Party, which I finished on my birthday.’ (8)
The KMHG will be closed to the public from May through to July for redevelopment, and the Library has taken back the typewriter for safekeeping during that period. We have also taken the opportunity to create a detailed digitised profile of the typewriter and its case. The Library’s Imaging Services team has done a splendid job of capturing the typewriter at various angles, with closer views of components such as the keyboard, and the position of the serial number. This series of photos is based on those taken of a 1919 Corona 3 held at Museums Victoria in Melbourne, (9) and replaces the single rather static black-and-white image we currently have of it, with a dynamic profile in full colour (see Ref: Curios-018-1-010).
The Mansfield collection of unpublished material at the Turnbull Library is foremost in the world and used extensively in scholarly research; it is also recognised on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. A visit to view her typewriter in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room would be well worth the effort.
Many thanks to Dr Gerri Kimber for assistance with finding quotations referring to the typewriter; Online Content Coordinator, Jay Buzenberg; Mark Beatty and Alicia Tolley and the Imaging Services and Conservation teams; and Curator NZ&P, Dr Fiona Oliver.
Turnbull Library Imaging Technician Llewe Jones and Conservator Sarah Askey examine the typewriter before it is taken for digitisation. Imaging Technician Mark Beatty explains: “A typewriter is a rather unusual collection item to come to the Imaging Services studios for photography. We did some research to see how other institutions photographed their typewriters, and found some good examples at the Museum of Victoria. After discussing options with Curators of the collection we decided to photograph it in a light tent, which allows for an even, diffused light to reduce reflections. We also examined the typewriter with Senior Conservator Margaret Morris, and discussed safe handling and any extra support which might be required. Now, the typewriter can be more closely examined through the photographs we created”.
Joanna Woods, et.al. The Material Mansfield: Traces of a Writer’s Life. Auckland: Random House, 2008.
Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott, eds. The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984-2008.
Margaret Scott. Recollecting Mansfield. Auckland: Random House, 2001.
C.A. Hankin, ed. The Letters of John Middleton Murry to Katherine Mansfield. London: Constable, 1983.
Gerri Kimber and Claire Davison, eds. The Diaries of Katherine Mansfield: including Miscellaneous Works. (Vol. 4 of the Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Katherine Mansfield.) Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.
1. Letter to Dorothy Brett, 2 July 1920. Collected Letters, vol.4, p.19 ^
2. Margaret Scott. Recollecting Mansfield, p.96 ^
3. Letter to Harold Beauchamp, 28 July 1922. Collected Letters, vol.5, p.227 ^
4. Footnote, The Letters of John Middleton Murry to Katherine Mansfield, p.312 ^
5. The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield, vol.2, pp.269-70 ^
6. Corona. The personal writing machine. Serial numbers. www.sljohnson.net/typewriter/corona/Corona-Serials.html ^
7. Recollecting Mansfield, pp.96-97 ^
8. October 16, . Collected Works of Katherine Mansfield, vol.4, p.433 ^
9. Corona Typewriter Company, Model 3, Portable, 1919. https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/376204 ^