Friday, August 31, 2012

The Skinny -- Typewriter Ribbons and Their Tins

Photo from

The Blackbird girls love tins, and we have several different specialized tin collections.  One collection in particular can be qualified as an obsession to me -- the typewriter ribbon tin.  The collection and its inception will be dealt with on some distant Junk Love Monday, but for today, we're focusing on the tin's history and design.

According to a great article at, the earliest definitely datable typewriter ribbon tin is from the Rogers Manifold and Carbon Paper Company of New York in 1892.  They win that title because they decided to go ahead and file all that pesky patent information, unlike Underwood, who had been making them for at least twenty years before that, in the 1870s.

Selling stuff in tins was common practice.  These were the days when everything came in tins -- tobacco, coffee, tea, chocolates, medicine, bird food, bifurcated rivets...

Sorry, I got distracted thinking about tins.

From Bold Sparrow Vintage on Etsy
In addition to being common practice, selling the ribbons in tins protected them, keeping them safe until it was time to be used.  Well, and you know, they could make them pretty, too. (Psst...that's the most important part!) Bright tins were a great way to catch a customer's eye, mainly because they could use that little tin for storage later -- true recycling.  If your tin was attractive, it was purchased.

Selling ribbons in tins continued through the glorious art deco years and into the mid-century.  There are THOUSANDS of different tin designs, from the strictly informative early tins with lots of text to the super slick streamlined and highly decorative tins that have nothing to do with typewriters or ribbons.  Ah, design for design's sake. 

Many of the best tins were manufactured by Decorated Metal, based in Brooklyn, and can be identified by the name on the lip of the bottom half of the tin.  And yes, I just went and looked on my tins, and I found the mark on some of them.  So trust me, it's there.

Most of the tins you see will be from certain makers, and the most notable makers are: Kee-Lox, Webster, Miller-Bryant-Pierce, Carter's, Mittag & Volger, and the aforementioned non-patent getting company, Underwood.  But as in every industry in the world, there were some small guys under the big boys.  Some of these lesser known companies are: Columbia Carbon (recognizable for the twin ladies, "Clean" and "Good" on the top), A.P. Little (with its "Satin Finish" brand), and Columbia Ribbon & Carbon.

Photo by
In addition to the nationally known brands, there were also the "house" brands of the typewriter manufacturers, too. A few examples are:  L.C. Smith sold "Type-Bar" ribbons; Remington was known as "Paragon" and "Remtico" brand ribbons; Oliver sold "Revilo" ribbons (see the cleverness there yet?); and Corona sold "Pigeon" ribbons.  Department stores has their own brands, too, just like they have house brands of towels, clothes, and anything else today.
 Whether covered with flowers, cameo silhouettes, or just decorative text, these tins are like mini time capsules of their eras, often overlooked because of their diminutive size.  One day I'll dive into my bowl full of tins to show you, but until that fateful Monday, here's a great video from offaloffice.  And yes, I'm totally jealous -- I want so many of the ones featured in the clip!

Thanks to for the great info!  And also to for the cool ribbon picture!

1 comment:

  1. So glad to find another typewriter ribbon tin fan! Thanks for the interesting information!!