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!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On the Radar -- Call of the Wild (pt.1)

Louis Vuitton, Fall 2012
I had another trend planned for On the Radar this week, but two things happened that changed my direction.  First, a fact -- the Blackbird girls are magazine junkies.  Our monthly subscriptions range from Country Living and Martha Stewart to Harper's Bazaar and Elle Decor.  And then we have the grocery store pick-ups.  So while watching an old Gene Kelly movie the other night, we pulled out our new magazines -- the beastly fall issues of Vogue, InStyle, Elle, and Harper's Bazaar.  The Vogue is over 900 pages!  As we started flipping through, we both happened to notice something.  EVERYBODY HAS LEOPARD PRINT THIS FALL.  It's everywhere!

That brings me to the second reason why I'm talking spots this week.  Last spring we bought 4 vintage leopard print scarves on a buying trip.  I found them all in the same box.  They've been posted in our Etsy shop for about 1 1/2 months.  But then, poof!  We sold all of them within the past two weeks.  I didn't make the connection until we saw the magazines.   Light bulb moment!

Brian Atwood, Fall 2012
The glamorous Dita Von Teese
Leopard print is like the Jekyll and Hyde of fashion:  it is the ultimate in sexiness, it can be incredibly chic, or it can go slutty in a heartbeat. In order to pull off leopard print, you need a luxe fabrication -- something that screams, "I AM QUALITY!"  Otherwise, you're going to look cheap and outdated.  Sorry, but that's a fact.

You also need to dial back the amount of leopard you add.  That's probably why our scarves are gone.  Just an accent -- the barest touch -- works for everybody.  If you go for all over leopard print, perhaps a dress, find a way to balance it with large fields of solid colors, like opaque tights or a jacket.  And for goodness' sake, don't mix your leopard spots! We're a fan of mixing patterns, but keep it to one animal print!

Sandro, Fall 2012
There are ways you can have fun with leopard print.  Changing the scale or repeat of the pattern is a great way to modernize the look.  Designers are deconstructing and abstracting the patterns, and many have started to change the colors, taking leopard from natural to eye popping.  It's even showing up in makeup:
Dior, Fall 2012

Here are some photos to inspire you:

The divine Mrs. Robinson, Anne Bancroft in The Graduate
Ralph Lauren, Fall 2012
I'm sorry to say we don't have anything available in our Etsy shop of the leopard print variety.  Everything's been snatched up.  But check out Etsy for great vintage finds to add to your fall wardrobe from the hundreds of other awesome vintage dealers.  I particularly loved these from Melissa Joy Vintage:

Leopard Shoes by MelissaJoyVintage on Etsy

And the same rules apply for decorating your home with leopard print.  Here's a room I went crazy over:


Monday, August 27, 2012

Junk Love Monday: Are We There Yet?

Long trips are great, but we don't always have the time (or the funds) to play Lewis and Clark. So, we try to take short trips several times throughout the year, usually around 2 to 3 days. We try to achieve a careful balance between planning and spontaneity for these trips to reduce our chances of wasting time and gas. In the week prior to the trip, we make lists and check Google maps and write down addresses and phone numbers (because we like to make sure that we're driving to places that actually still exist and function as retail locations). Then, we throw a couple of duffel bags in the back, and decide as we travel whether we want to stick to our original path, or stop in that cute little town and see what's there.

We usually have better luck when we stick to the lists, but sometimes it's the unplanned stops that end up being junk gold mines. This brings to mind one trip in particular, which shall always be known as That Time We Almost Went to Georgia.

The Blackbird girls are infamous for being slow travelers. What should be a three hour drive becomes an eleven hour event, because we are basically children with bank accounts. We stop. Often. An hour on the road makes us squirmy, and two hours becomes Are We There Yet? The bright side of this is that neither of us is particularly worried about checking into a hotel at midnight, as long as we got good junk along the way.

We decided to go to Georgia for two nights. We made our lists, threw in our bags, and hit the road. An hour later, because we were already itching for a fix, we had to make a quick thrift store stop to stretch our legs. It was an auspicious beginning. Within the first five minutes, I found the love of my life (one of many, I admit):

Ahh, globes....

We made it across the border to South Carolina, stopping here and there as the inspiration hit us, finding all sorts of little thrift stores and independent junk shops. And it was good junk, so we had to keep looking, right? Otherwise, we might have missed this: