Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Does a ribbon dry up?

When I got the Speedline it was a bit moldy and the ribbon more than a bit moldy. One of the first steps in cleaning the machine was to take that ribbon out (plastic spools) and toss it in the bin.

Being able to then take a brand new Kores ribbon (on a set of plastic spools) out of its box and put it in was I think remarkable of itself. To take a machine that is over 70 years old and still being able to put in a brand new replaceable/consumable part that fits perfectly is remarkable. That is a very long support lifetime. The future is hard to predict, but I doubt that will be possible with the battery in a laptop or the cartridge in a new laser-printer 70 years from now.

But anyways; the new nylon ribbon works great; the machine functions just as it should (i.e. it types). Still, the sight of the plastic spools in the machine was to me still a bit jarring, just not quite right. With the cover closed, you do not see the spools of course, but I know they are there. They should be metal and square-spoked, like shown in the instruction manual.

So I managed to get a very nice set of metal spools of the right pattern for a Speedline of this era. First I was going to rewind the new nylon ribbon onto the new (old) spools, when I spotted an old ribbon offered for sale online in its un-opened packaging.

An Olivetti plastic ribbon 'tin' with a metal spool. On the label it said the still-sealed ribbon was a black, silk ribbon. In general I am not a fan of Olivetti, but I do have an appreciation of their product quality (I do get the 22's clean 50-ies style, it is just not my cup of tea). It was sealed and it said silk, so I made a bid and got it. (Well, the getting was more complicated than normally, but in the end it arrived and very well packed too.)

I'll admit I hesitated a bit on deciding to use this old stock, but went ahead and opened the box, removed the seal. Bonus of course is that an Olivetti ribbon has the reversing grommets.

The ribbon looked fine, but the grommets probably had some sort of rubber centre fitted. The grommets are fine, but the rubber (?) had totally gone to goo and had to be wiped off.

With the silk ribbon rewound onto the Corona spools, then placed them into the machine. So here the machine with the correct, square spoked metal spools and a new old silk ribbon.

Typing then. (Nylon on top, silk on bottom half.)

It doesn't come across in the scan, but the nylon ribbon typing really looks a very dark purple. The fainter silk ribbon has absolutely no color bias. But it is fainter.

That had me wondering, does a ribbon dry up? The plastic sealing certainly is porous to many gases, would allow drying out. Then again, the seal and then the box would have mostly restricted any airflow for anything to evaporate in any way. I'm sure the pigment cannot have gone anywhere, that must all be there still.  (The next item to wonder about then is; what actually is the inking of a ribbon?)

I'll give it a try first. Then we'll see what ribbon we keep in...



  1. I bought a box of 10 ex-government Caribonum brand ribbons dated October 1972. All were cellophane wrapped and brand new. All gave very faint impressions. They can be remoistened with WD40 and some people swear by this. I'd just rather buy a good fresh stock ribbon for £3 which oozes ink and makes a good impression. Nice replacement job on those spools by the way - you are right, it does make a difference, even if you can't see them.

  2. I have WD-40'd a 40-year-old silk ribbon, and the results are not really impressive. Very blotchy. It seems to work best on cotton ribbons.

  3. Thanks for the info, hadn't considered 're-oiling'.
    Not sure if I dare / will apply WD. (If I do, it'll be a bit of an experiment in how to apply best - we'll try to do science to it!)
    May well return to the fresh (albeit purply) nylon then :)