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If You Collect These, You Might Get a Ribbon

By Neal McChristy

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Whether they are found in desk drawers, dusty attics or flea markets, the typewriter ribbon tin is a compact collectible that draws record prices of up to $1,500, shows the artistic side of Americana lithography and mirrors of history.

"What's interesting about collecting ribbon tins is they span about 100 years, even up into the '60s and '70s," said Hoby Van Deusen, a Watertown, Conn., banker-turned-collector and publisher of Ribbon Tin News.


The tins are the subject of a Web site published by Darryl Rehr, author of Antique Typewriters and Office Collectibles, a book about collecting typewriter memorabilia and edits ETCetera, the journal of the Early Typewriter Collectors' Association.

Rehr, who is also a Los Angeles-based producer of documentaries, e-mails this: "Apart from the logical 'why' in my tin collecting, there is the fabulous artistic and cultural appeal they have. They are really a ton o' fun."

A tin that featured pictures of a Model T typewriter delivery truck and a Woostock typewriter sold at a well-publicized auction for $1,500 a few years ago, according to both Rehr and Van Deusen.


Hoby Van Deusen shows some of his ribbon tins.

"I know of a number of people who have the same tin in their collections and paid more on the order of $50 for the same item," Rehr said. "Had the bidder at that auction known that, the price might not have gone that high." Most of the common tins are under $5, if they can be sold, Rehr said, while rare ones command a price in the $200 range. He said a database of over 1,600 tin sales showed an average price of $17 per tin.

There are about 4,500 types of tins, Van Deusen says, and he goes around the country looking at collections. Collectors fall into three main categories, according to Van Deusen: People in advertising, typewriter collectors and a group composed of graphic illustrators, commercial artists and ad executives. He is a former New York City banker who came in through the advertising side. Both have a favorite story about collecting.

Van Deusen was at a May flea market in Brimfield, located in central Massachussetts. This flea market attracts thousands, and Van Deusen was looking for square ribbon tins. He spied a box of tins under a table with about four that had a lithograph of perfectly-matched lines of Marines saluting as a plane flies by. Sale value: $200 each. They had watch parts in them. The woman who sold the tins to him told him they were on consignment for another person.

"I gave her more than she asked for them, because she asked for $5 each," Van Deusen said.

Rehr also has a flea market story, which happened in a market in Pomona, Calif., in June.

"I was wading through one of those spaces in which the dealer placed his wares in 50 corrugated cardboard boxes just scattered on the ground," he said. "I literally tripped over one of the boxes and as I looked down, there were three ribbon packages right at my feet. They were two Carter's Midnight boxes and a Mittag and Volger Tagger box.

"OK, they weren't tins because they were made of cardboard, but they are still quite collectible. By the way, we often call these boxes 'cardboard tins.' An amusing contradiction." He also tells the story of talking to the typewriter repairman in the TV newsroom where he was working. They were discussing the old machines, and Rehr noticed a cardboard box the repairman had with old tins in it."It was a box for a dozen Panama ribbons and their tins," Rehr said, "featuring a Boeing 707 flying over the Isthmus of Panama. I offered to buy it from him (most Panama tins are extremely common, but the cardboard boxes are not), but he absolutely refused. He gave it to me instead."

In addition to the lithography, the tall tins that held wide one and one-half inch ribbons are more valuable than the newer one-half inch wide tins. Graphic design plays a part, as does historical significance. Some companies, such as GM and US Steel, had lithographed designs from their art departments placed on the ribbon tins.

"They show the development of artistic style almost over a century," Van Deusen said, "and show the lithography of that era."

Editor's Note: There is considerable data on the World Wide Web about the history of typewriter ribbon tins and collecting. Rehr's book, "Antique Typewriters and Office Collectibles" contains about 240 photos. Copies are available from the author at $19.95 + $2 postage in the U.S. Write to: Darryl Rehr, PO Box 641824, Los Angeles, CA 90064. Tel. (310)477-5229.

To contact Hoby Van Deusen by e-mail, contact him at
To contact Darryl Rehr, contact him at

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