Collecting Tools for Communication: Typewriter Ribbon Tins

rachelOne of my favorite college classes was Communication Technology and Culture. In twelve whirlwind weeks, we studied communication techniques from oral history all the way to the computer age. There were four main projects – an oral group presentation, a handwritten paper, a typewritten paper, and a computerized paper in which all the research was done on the internet. Pens, pencils, typewriters, computers and their accessories are utilitarian devices, but they are also collectibles. Of course, not all things collected are highly valuable, and some only appeal to a niche of collectors. For instance, sellers at a small town generalist antiques store would likely have an easier time selling vintage fountain pens than old typewriters or computers. Demand for smalls like vintage fountain pens in excellent condition is greater than that for larger communication tools, partly because of space issues.

Some of the small communication tools or accessories are really quite beautifully designed. Fountain pens with lovely colors and strong forms are useful, reusable artifacts. Unlike today’s pens, they were made to last. The same is true for typewriter ribbon tins versus today’s The Elegant Recycler 2 01212013computer ink packaging. Typewriter ribbons once were packaged in small tins with the product logo on the front. Many of them have bold colors and graphics. These tins are small (many are about 2 ½ inches in diameter or wide) and utilitarian as well. Typewriter ribbon tins were used as packaging beginning in the late 1800s through the 1960s. Typically the tins have the ribbon company’s graphic on the lid, and sometimes they have a maker’s mark on the bottom. They are readily available online for purchase; many are priced less than twenty dollars and some less than ten dollars apiece. Only four individual tins on eBay were priced $99 or up. When looking at price versus description and shipping, be sure to check and see if the ribbon is included. Some tins may have the original ribbon. Read the description so you know what to expect. Tins at a bargain are likely available at brick and mortar stores but will require a bit of hunting.

The Elegant Recycler 1 01212013Until a few weeks ago, I had never seen typewriter ribbon tins in person. Truly they are lovely little packages, and my mind is churning trying to think of modern uses for them. Place one on a dresser or at an entrance to hold coins, earrings, and other stray items from pockets. They are small enough to fit well in clutch purses and keep small items contained. Typewriter ribbon tins are also a creative way to wrap small gifts. Imagine if modern computer ink came in such lovely and usable packaging. I suppose we would all be wondering what to do with the ink tins, just as coffee drinkers once searched to find uses for empty coffee tins. Maybe Pinterest users would save them for holiday baking or create a 1001 other uses, but we’ll never know because the days of reusable packaging are nearly gone. With this in mind, I decided to visit Pinterest and see if users had posted ideas for ribbon tins. Although not many repurposing ideas were posted, the search was an excellent way to view many examples of tins and their respective colors and logos. Take a look! If you find typewriter ribbon tins in the attic, enjoy, reuse or sell them, and think of the good ol’ days when packaging was a useful as the products it housed.

Rachel Glenn is part owner of Rachel’s Attic Antiques and Collectibles in Dandridge, Tennessee and has been dealing in antiques and collectibles for eleven years and selling online for eight years.

Source: Rachel Glenn

Jefferson Farmers Co-op 08112014