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TYPEWRITER RIBBON TINS and their history

by Darryl Rehr

     About 125 years ago, a little group of tinkerers headed by Christopher Latham Sholes was putting the finished touches on a machine that they dubbed the "Type Writer." It placed on a page in a way that was distinctively different than the printers who turned out books and newspapers. Instead of the strong, firm pressure of the printing press, it utilized the quick percussive tap of a piece of type mounted on the end of a swinging arm. The type struck the paper through an inked ribbon, something quite new to the world of the 1870's, and the source for a growing field of today's collectibles: typewriter ribbon tins.

      When Remington began manufacturing Sholes' typewriter in 1874, the company told users to return the ribbons to the factory for re-inking. You can guess how long that lasted. Ribbons were later sold over the counter, and tins were the natural containers. At present, however, we can't confirm the sale of ribbons in tins before 1892. We say 1892, because that is the date of the earliest known datable tin. It comes from the Rogers Manifold and Carbon Paper Co. of New York, and it is imprinted with enough patent information to allow us to date it precisely between May 2 and November 2, 1892.

      Another early ribbon maker has a name more famous for typewriters themselves: Underwood. That family, however, was originally a ribbon manufacturer, its enterprise dating back to 1874. Alongside Rogers and perhaps other firms as well, they contracted with Remington to make its ribbons. We're told that when Remington decided to make its own ribbons, it dropped Underwood's contract, and the ribbon maker decided to make its own typewriter to seek revenge. It was Remington's mistake, since Underwood quickly became the nation's dominant typewriter manufacturer.

      The earliest Underwood ribbon tin we have dates back to the mid-1890's, from all appearances. It and the Rogers tin were blocky in shape (usually called "tall" tins by collectors), because they held ribbons which were about 1-1/2" wide, the standard width for typewriters before 1895. In that particular year, Underwood introduced its famous typewriter, fitted for a 1/2" ribbon. The Underwood Typewriter set the new standard in the industry for the next 60 years, and so the vast majority of ribbon tins we find today are square or round, and more or less flat in shape, made to hold 1/2" ribbons.

      It appears the first tins that the Remington Co. made for itself were very flat in shape (measuring 1/4"x1-1/2"x4"), because they held their ribbons with no spools. At the time, ribbon spools were permanently mounted to typewriters and not interchangeable. The spools on which some of these wide ribbons were sold were not meant to be used on the machines, but were included as conveniences, to make installing the ribbon a little easier. Companies other than Remington also sold ribbons in flat tins. It's tempting to say that these are the "earliest" tins we know of, but so far,we've been unable to confirm it.

     All together, ribbons were packaged in tin containers until about the 1960's, giving us 70 years or more of interesting products to collect and study. The diversity of ribbon tins is truly staggering, with thousands of different varieties now documented. They are colorful, artistic and intriguing, reflecting the advertising of the many periods through which manufacture of the product passed: all the way from late Victorian through Art Nouveau to Deco and up through the Nifty Fifties and Jet-Age Sixties. Yes, there are even some ribbon packages which feature Boeing 707's and B-52's!

     To get a grasp on the scope of ribbon tin manufacture, it's helpful to note the major national ribbon makers. They were Kee-Lox (Rochester, NY); Carter's (Boston); Mittag & Volger (Park Ridge, NJ); Miller-Bryant-Pierce (Aurora, IL); Webster (Boston) and Underwood (various locations) and Manifold Supplies (Brooklyn, NY), known for its famous Panama tins.

     There are a number of lesser national brands frequently seen and known for their distinctive tins. A.P. Little of Rochester, NY is known for its "Satin Finish" brand, featuring the picture of a little black boy, giving these tins a premium price for their value to "blackobilia" collectors. Columbia Carbon of Dayton, Ohio produced charming tins featuring a pair of twin ladies named "Clean" and "Good." Columbia Ribbon & Carbon of Glen Cove, NY (association to the Dayton firm unknown) made a line featuring its fancy logo as well as other very colorful tins.

      Aside from the national brands, there were also the house brands of the typewriter companies themselves. Remington used the "Paragon" and "Remtico" brand name on its ribbons; the American Writing Machine Co. sold "Invincible" ribbons; Corona sold "Pigeon" ribbons; L.C. Smith sold "Type-Bar" ribbons and Oliver sold "Revilo" ribbons (Revilo is Oliver spelled backwards). There were also hundreds, of regional brands and custom labels for individual retailers. "Herald Square" was sold by Woolworth, "Kreko" by Kresge, and the list goes on.

     The best of the typewriter ribbon tins were manufactured by a firm called "Decorated Metal" in Brooklyn, NY. About half of all tins you'll find were made by DM. Look for their legend on the lip of the tin base.

      Number two in the tin field was J.L. Clark, of Rockford, IL. This firm is still in business, and though it confirms its foray into the typewriter tin industry, it is able to provide only scant details. Clark started out in 1904 making flue covers. Tins were stamped out of the leftover metal, and were first made to hold medical ointments. Later, they made them for ribbon manufacturers. Clark tins are identified by the company's logo: a capital C superimposed over an inverted T. The logo is usually very tiny, and is found on the lip of the base, or at the extreme edge of the base bottom surface.

     It's also interesting to find the names of the very early tin makers on wide ribbon tins. Some of these to look for are Mersereau (Brooklyn, NY), Somers Bros. (Brooklyn, NY) and Colonial Can Co. (Boston). The various numbered factories of the American Can Co. give us a way to date tins. A large group of older tin makers consolidated to form American Can in 1901, so no tin with an American Can mark can be older than that. A few modern tins carry the logo of Anchor Hocking, the famous glass company. They were made by the firm's metal closure division between the 1940's and 60's.

     Many typewriter ribbon tins still carry ribbons inside, although the majority of these are used ribbons placed in the tin after being taken off the machine. Even if the ribbon inside is unused and original, there is little to interest a collector unless it is enclosed in some sort of decorative wrapper. In some early tall tins, the spools inside are lithographed in addition to the tin itself, and these spools, along with any ribbons they hold, should be preserved.

     The other things you'll find in some tins are the little doodads people stored inside them after the ribbon was used. Traditionally, ladies in the office used tins for paper clips, thumb tacks, hairpins and such (the inside of some Panama tins are even printed with those objects, as if to suggest a use for the tin, showing little trust that the user could figure it out for herself!). I have found tins filled with war ration tokens, bingo markers, sequins, transistors, and even one packed solid with grease.

      Apart from tins made in the United States, there is an equal (perhaps greater) number of attractive tins from all over the world. Although some American collectors shun foreign tins, others eagerly gather them, somewhat akin to stamp collectors with their "World" albums. It becomes a challenge to accumulate tins from as many different nations as possible. Foreign tins, of course, are less easy to find in this country than home brew tins.

     As to desirability and price, it depends on who you talk to. Some collectors like to brag about how cheaply they bought their tins, while others make careers out of promoting high prices so they can market what they've acquired. Occasionally, some eyebrows will be raised as a particular item creates an auction spike, but collectors with the same item will shrug, knowing they acquired it at a far lower level.

     Ribbon tins still seem to be something of the "poor relations" in the tin collecting field, with items such as tobacco, coffee and talc tins maintaining their higher-status positions. The number of collectors seeking ribbon tins is relatively small, but they're enthusiastic and may one day see their interest move into the mainstream among antique advertising tins.

===============

Darryl Rehr, a typewriter collector, also has a collection of ribbon tins which threatens to squeeze him out of his house. He is editor of ETCetera, magazine of the Early Typewriter Collectors Association, and author of Antique Typewriters & Office Collectibles, a new book on the subject, which includes a special section on ribbon tins. You may contact him at P.O. Box 641824, Los Angeles, CA 90064. Tel. (310) 477-5229

       From ChipTin - I was very fortunate to have a reader step forward with some great material for the article on typewriter tins. I hope it will be as informative to you as it was for me. The following is some introductory material Mr. Darryl Rehr sent me first

     From: [email protected] (Darryl Rehr)

To: [email protected]
Mike-OK, here is what I will do. In a separate e-mail, I will include the text
of an article I have just sent in to the ANTIQUE TRADER (dunno when it will
appear). Since that is for the general audience, here is some more info:

--------

     I have written several articles in the national antiques press on ribbon tins over the past 7-8 years, and they may have helped fuel the growing interest in this portion of the hobby.

     My own interest in tins stems from my interest in collecting typewriters. I have edited ETCetera, the journal of the Early Typewriter Collectors Association for the past 10 years. (For info, visit: <http://home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/etcetera.html>).

     Since September, 1991, ETCetera has offered regular coverage of ribbon tins. Originally, this was in black and white, but since March, 1995, it has been in color, using high quality color copying technology.

     In April, 1993, Hobart Van Deusen, of Watertown, CT has published RIBBON TIN NEWS, which features photos of tins in color. It was originally produced using the color copier, but a year or two ago, Van Deusen cheapened the product by running the whole thing off on his inkjet computer printer.

     Van Deusen's work is very good in that he continually gives us serviceable illustrations of more and different tins. His work is at its best when doing complete surveys of a particular manufacturer's products (ie -Carter, or Mittag & Volger). His work is at its worst when he constantly hypes high prices. In fact RIBBON TIN NEWS is very price oriented. Over the past two years, Van Deusen has used it to promote his twice-annual mail/phone auctions, for which he mails out color catalogues. Prices at these auction reach what I would call healthy-high levels, but, to my experience (as well as several of my colleagues), they cannot be said to represent the "market" price for tins, as Van Deusen implies. Please note that I imply no objection to VD's (or anyone else's) auctions. It's a perfectly valid way to market tins. I have my own sale going on right now, in fact, though I'm encouraging trade items instead of cash... but that's another story.

     Tin collectors will probably be aware of the spectacular performance of a "Service" typewriter tin from Muncie, Indiana at a recent Bill Morford auction. The piece achieved about $1400, which previously was unheard of for a typewriter tin. However, the tin was not purchased by a typewriter tin collector. It's graphics, which included an old delivery truck (possibly Model T), as well as a Woodstock typewriter. RIBBON TIN NEWS may have fueled the fire that made this sale possible. An example of this tin,found by another collector earlier (there are at least 3 known examples....so far), was featured in a huge picture on an RTN cover, and called the "most graphic" tin in existence by the editor. RTN then featured a large article on the spectacular Morford sale, and in the subsequent issue, showed a xerox copy of a newspaper article on the very same subject. Needless to say, the editor is fixated on this item. The two other known specimens of this tin, by the way, were purchased on the retail market for under $50.

     According to Van Deusen, there are now 4000 different typewriter tins documented on his "Master List." He compiles this list by visiting various collectors across the country and cataloging their collections. I have contributed my own list to his efforts, three times. I have asked him to reciprocate by providing me with his list, but he has always declined. Although he has indicated in RTN several times that he will publish his "Master List," Van Deusen has never done so. Such indications have now disappeared from RTN, as VD now seems to want to keep the information close to his vest.

     In the open marketplace, knowledge of typewriter tins among dealers is scant. Most will tend to overprice common-but-attractive items. The ubiquitous Battleship tins from F.S. Webster of Boston, for instance, are regularly priced at $20, 30 even $50. But there are so many of these around, that even an impatient collector will find one for $5 or so before long. That's just an example... there are many more like these. On the other hand, other tins, which may be quite rare, can be very modestly priced.

     At the Wirfs show in Portland in July, I found a total of 15 tins, which was quite a haul for a single show. The average price for the 15 was $8.05. This is generally higher than I have paid over the long haul, but then, my collection is now at about 650, so I'm no longer buying many of the common tins, which are plentiful enough to be found inexpensively. Thus, my personal average price is going up.

     It is my general feeling that typewriter tins are still considered the "poor relations" of the tin collecting community in general. I'll defer to my other tin collecting colleagues for their own take on this issue.

DR

SOME FOLLOW-UP ON RIBBON TIN COLLECTING

by Mike Reilly

     Providing more information about typewriter ribbon tins after Darryl Rehr's excellent article last issue is to say a bit challenging. I'd like to thank Darryl once again for his contribution to the TIN GATHERING™ .

     Using David Zimmerman's book once more as a source, I've pulled this out for you readers. Ribbons were not only made for typewriters, but for some adding machines as well. You'll probably find a couple dozen different tins made for this purpose or may have been adapted to fit these particular machine ribbons.

     Many ribbon tins have an ink stamped impression on them to identify the color of the ribbon ink (Black wasn't the only color.) and more importantly the brand name of the typewriter they were used in. So you may find *Underwood -Red" or something similar hand-stamped on the lid of the tin. I believe most were hand-stamped due to the poor positioning of the impression seen in the photos.

      Zimmerman's book also listed "Accessories" as a subtitle under "Typewriter Ribbons". The only items I found that fit this category were "Type Cleaner" tins. Taking a guess, I would say that they contained a mild solvent to clean the individual type heads of dirt and dried ink buildup. Two brands were "Mineral Waxtwins" and "Norta". (Does anyone know of other "go-withs" that could be collected?) (After I wrote this question to you, Zimmerman came to my rescue again. He lists 16 different ink pad tins many produced by the same companies that sold typewriter ribbons. The ones shown are all flat and rectangular in shape. Anyway, if you're thinking of "go-withs" consider other office supplies items that could have been sold in tins. Has anyone out there recreated an old office environment to display their collection?)

     As Darryl mentioned in his article, there are many interesting themes depicted on these tins. If you think that trying to amass a collection of a couple thousand is too much, you may want to limit yourself to any brand(s) from your state, a particular company or brand, or a certain theme, such as those with birds or people on them. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

     Perhaps Darryl could provide additional info in future issues if any readers have further questions or interest. Of course accessing his web site emailing him ([email protected] ), buying his book (see his web site), or subscribing to ETCetera will also get you added information and expand your collecting interests.

     By the way, I looked up that "Service" brand tin he mentioned that went for $1,400 at auction in Zimmerman's book. In 1994 he prices it at $10 (if it's the same tin).

     Below are several news items I gathered from doing a search on the internet. If you have internet access with the capability of using "search engines", you'll be surprised sometimes what comes back by simply querying a single word or phrase.

65% The "Typewriter City" Museum of Syracuse... URL: http://maple.lemoyne.edu/~ceriojl/index.html Summary: My name is Jenifer L. Cerio a student at Le Moyne College--> In 1906, Syracuse boasted large typewriter factories and was known as the "Typewriter City." Advancements For Business: Not only for the Smith Brothers in the typewriter business, but the business community as a whole, especially in women's work issues.

Typewriter Collectibles

     The typewriter, first seen in 1874, is rapidly becoming extinct in America. Smith Corona, the last big American manufacturer, declared bankruptcy in July and says it will no longer make the machines. The new technology of the word processor and computer has largely replaced the old, faithful typewriter.

     E. Remington & Sons first made a typewriter called the "Sholes & Glidden Type Writer," which typed only capital letters. By 1878 their "No. 2 Type Writer" could type upper- and lower-case letters. Underwood introduced an improved typewriter in 1895; it was the first machine to use type bars that hit the platen in front.

     By 1900 most typewriters had four rows of keys, usually with the Qwerty key layout that is still the standard for computer keyboards. The turn of the century also brought with it the first use of inked ribbons.

     L. C. Smith and his brothers, gunmakers in Syracuse, New York, introduced the Smith Premier Typewriter No. I in 1889. In 1903 they started the L.C. Smith & Bros. Typewriter Co., which in 1926 merged with Corona Typewriter Co., a firm that had been around since 1907. Thus was born the Smith Corona Company.

     The first Smith Premier typewriter is attractive--the case is decorated with art nouveau designs--but it is not rare. The Early Typewriter Collectors Association (2591 Military Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90064) says the first Smith Premier is worth about $125.

     From Kovels home page- Collectors tend to focus on unusual, nonstandard machines, such as those with spinning cylinders, strange keyboards, and other variations. Rarities can be valued at more than $1,000.

Typewriter Ribbon Tin Go-Withs

The following reply from Darryl Rehr makes a good follow-up article to the last couple of issues

      You shoulda e-mailed me with your questions about "go-withs." Actually, I prefer the more-elegant term: "ephemera."

      Anyway... I also have a book. It's called "Antique Typewriters and Office Collectibles" Just out from Collector Books. It's 100% color, and includes a special section on ribbon tins (223 of them shown).

      The book is available from me at $19.95 + $2 shipping. When ordering directly from me, you get a free bonus: a little booklet called "The Early History of the Typewriter" by Charles Weller. Includes the descriptions of the very first typewriter ribbons, in use as early as 1868!! Interested folks may preview the book by visiting this website:

http://home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/book/book.html 

      Regarding type-cleaners: Other brands: Star brand from Eberhard Faber and Invincible from the American Writing Machine Co. Most of these are in tins, some still containing the rubbery clay-like substance used to press against the typefaces to clean them. There were also liquid cleaners. I have two bottles of "SCAT" brand typewriter cleaner, featuring a terrific silhouette of an arching black cat. The Mineral Wax brand (showing the "Clean" and "Good" twins belongs to Columbia Carbon of Dayton, OH (Not to be confused with another Columbia out of Glen Cove, NY). Columbia of Dayton made all kinds of typewriter goods, including ribbons, carbon paper... and they even   issued a little metal eraser shield, curved to fit over the platen to guide

That leads us to other ephemera:

  • Eraser shields - most of these are flat cards, usually celluloid or other plastic, with various hole in them to allow you to erase specific areas. The best are printed attractively with pictures of ribbon tins or typewriters or such.

  • Carbon Paper- issued by most of the ribbon makers: Webster, Columbia, Kee-Lox, Panama, etc., etc. Again, the best have really nice graphics.

  • Mirrors- issued by many of the ribbon makers and typewriter makers. Examples I have are Remington, Panama, Underwood, Monarch, Webster, Oliver. There are many others. Mirror collectors will know how nice these things are.

  • Tape measures- I've seen at least a couple versions of souvenir tape measures issued by Panama. There may be others as well, but the Panamas are the only ones I've seen.

  • Erasers - I have one circular eraser issued by Panama, with very nice graphics. Erasers (particularly round ones) came packed in tin or cardboard cylinders, which are collectible by themselves.

  • Typewriter Oil - the ribbon companies and typewriter makers sold oil for the machines. I've seen them for many typewriter makes. I have a nice, blue deco-style one from Stafford's, an ink and ribbon maker.

  • Letterheads - very ornate letterheads from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are available from both typewriter makers and ribbon makers. Some of these are really super, with multi-color printing... and even the black-and-white ones are swell. Printed envelopes, too.

  • Brochures - I have a super little bookled called "Typing Tips" issued by Miller-Bryant-Pierce (a major ribbon maker) in 1939. Many of these companies issued such customer magazines as part of their ongoing P-R campaign. The Remington Typewriter Co. sent out a magazine called "Remington Notes" that's FULL of great graphics and interesting "period" stuff.

  • Trade journals - lots of terrific ads for both ribbons, typewriters and other ephemera to be found in magazines targeting stenographers, businessmen, etc. Here's a short list:

  1. System Magazine

  2. Business Man's Monthly

  3. The Gregg Writer

  4. Frank Harrison's Shorthand Magazine

  5. Browne's Phonographic Monthly

  6. Typewriter Topics

  7. The Phonographic World

  8. Typewriter and Phonographic World

(note: "phonographic" refers to "phonography," a system of shorthand based on phonetic sounds... NOT record players)

Yes, there's lot's more, but my fingers are getting tired typing. Later, DR

   

 

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