Monday, May 7, 2012

Dear Mr. Remington: AYFKM?

Woe to the collector who acquires their first Remington portable! Woe, I say!

Remington Quiet-Riter, aka "Moses" c. 1952
My first Remington... but not my last. A 1950s Remington Quiet-Riter

For reasons unknown to me (but probably known to others in the Typosphere), Remington eschewed using anything resembling a spool for most (or all?) of their portable machines. Sure, there were variations among other makers, too: Olivetti has spools are almost-but-not-quite like Smith-Corona, and even S-C went a different direction for their Skyriter-line ultra-portables. But, oh! Remington! You thought Betamax vs. VHS and PC vs. Mac was bad, but ain't seen nothin' till you find one of these banging around the inside of your new portable:

Remington Ribbon Rings

Seriously, Remington? Seriously? Even in their heyday, I can't see how this system was a good idea. Remington ribbons came wound around these rings ("cores," I've seen them called) and I guess the unlucky typist just ruined her manicure by trying to drop the whole thing neatly onto the waiting platform in the machine. The core fits over the middle of the spool, and Remington machines have a permanently-attached surface that the wound ribbon rests upon, like a Lazy Susan in the middle of the table at your favorite family-style restaurant. Removing the spent ribbon must have been equally pernicious, as the poor typist would then need to pick the whole thing up and chuck it into the garbage, core and all.

What's even more shocking to me is that Remington stuck with the design, whether out of pride, or consistency, or because there was a good business case to be made by having exclusive ribbons. For the modern user/collector, though, it's a huge pain. Usually most people will start amassing a selection of spools salvaged from old machines or new plastic ones used to wind on ribbons to other machines. These are the Smith-Corona style, I think -- the 2" diameter spool with the little holes cut out near the hub which are turned by a rotating peg. I have several pairs of these, but only a few cores, despite the half-dozen or so Remingtons that have passed through my hands.

You can always wind a ribbon on to the core, of course. Slip the core over the center of the rotating platform so that the little prong points in the direction of travel, spear the end of a ribbon on that prong, and turn the platform... slowly... slowly... slowly... until it's all wound. I've done this using a pencil eraser to turn the platform like I'm punting up an inky river. The results are not pretty.

Hand-wound Remington Ribbon
Cover that up! Shown in a 1940s Remington Noiseless 7

Even the smallest bump or irregularity will cause the ribbon to bulge out around it. No wonder Remington put covers on top of the spools. It's just embarrassing.

Happily, there is another way. Underwood standard machines take a spool that looks a bit like a donut: the center of the spool must slip over a central hub instead of a simple peg. Whether by accident or design, this it a perfect fit in the Remington spool area. You may not be able to fit the covers over the spool afterward, but then, you may not need to.

Underwood Spool in a Remington
So tidy. My OCD is sated. Shown in a 1960s Remington Monarch

The bad news is that I see these spools even less often than Remington cores: I have exactly one pair from my Underwood, and that ribbon hops around from machine to machine as needed. But at least I have the option to do this.

I have seen modern plastic "universal" ribbons for sale online that appear to have a removable central hub. The spool is black plastic, and the central hub is white. Those of you old enough to remember the adapter that fit inside 45rpm records can picture this most clearly, I think. I have yet to see one of these spools -- my local stores only carry the Smith-Corona style. If you can find some of the universal ones, though, and that center does knock out, then you won't be needlessly bitten by the Remington Curse.

Update: What brought this post on was a comment by Judith at Dante's Wardrobe on el Twitter as she's trying to get a ribbon onto her own Quiet Riter. She posted a photo of the innards of her machine, with something circled:


I'd forgotten about this. This is a later-style ribbon cover from Remington: it pressure fits on the central hub of the spool and can be removed with a firm pull upwards to access the ribbon and the ring/core. If you have one of these, then your spooling won't be quite as awful, since you can spin the top of the cover with your finger to wind the ribbon on. I didn't get a pair of these until I purchased the Monarch last year, though, long after I'd acquired and sold a number of other Remingtons. If you must wind directly on, at least this can help keep your fingers from coming out totally inky. It won't make removing a dead ribbon any easier, though.


Cameron said...

I have some of those standard ribbon spools, bought at , that have the removable center ring. I haven't tried them on any of my Remingtons, however, but am assured that they will work.

wordrebel said...

Let this be a lesson to all new collectors: even if two things look as they they are interchangeable, adds are they aren't. And in cases like this when you don't think you'll need extra spools or rings, save them anyway - you'll be rewarded in the long run!

J.A. said...

Thanks so much for this, Mike. The close up photos are especially useful. I am not of the patient sort when it comes to these machines, however. (I have 2 Rems.) Must decide if I wanna bother keeping 'em or not. I DO like their typing action . . . sigh.

maschinengeschrieben said...

Oh. My. God.
I knew they had that stubborn system, but i never realised what pain it is to replace. Must. Find. Underwood spool.

Ryan Adney said...

I agree, absolutly annoying. Curse you, Remington!

Bill M said...

You have covered the worst thing about a Remington typewriter. Mine would not be so polite. I like my machine and hate those blasted rings and open ribbons.

Duffy Moon said...

This is why I was so excited to find new-old stock ribbons at Spitzfaden's in Cinci - because for a couple of bucks I could get a color ribbon ON THE CORRECT CORE. I wish I'd picked up more of them now.

The Noiseless desktop machine I just got (and the #6 and #10, I believe) have that awesome crank on the side that makes all that winding a bit less tedious ("sidewinder?").

Rob Bowker said...

Well, for me, that core solution is one of Remington's endearing idiosyncrasies. The Portable and Mod.5 are different again with smaller-than-average but otherwise 'normal' spools. I'd assumed the little knobs on the ribbon covers of a Noiseless Portable, say, were to help wind on fresh ribbon... or maybe the separate core was a brilliant marketing ploy to sell own-brand ribbons. Think hp and toner cartridges today.

mpclemens said...

@Rob: I don't know about other models, but on the Noiseless 7, that knob doesn't turn at all. The central shaft that runs up through the spool is fixed, so you either have to use your finger or a tool to wind the ribbon on, or use a cover like Judith's to spin the "spool."

This is a shame, too, since every Remington I've had was a snappy typer, regardless of the era. But passing them along to someone usually requires a lot of disclaimers and apologies about inky fingers.

rino breebaart said...

yes - the funky unfriendly ribbon spools on the -Riters. Annoying, but I got used to spooling a new ribbon on. Still - despite the UX problem - it's my go-to machine for a serious writing session. Suggest wearing medical gloves!

Scott K said...

I have had no issues with inexpensive 'universal' ribbons, which have the pop-out core. They seem to be fairly easy to come by, and work brillantly, although they don't have the eyelets in them for the auto-reverse.

I'll keep the spool and re-wind them afterwards, but I've been able to buy them quite easily.

The biggest problem I have had, was one seller forgetting to send me the product. I have three of them, one on the typer, and two in reserve.

And my Quiet-riter is by FAR my favorite. I'm also hoping to get hold of one of these older barrel styled units (As you have pictured). I have the later unit, and I'm considering painting it.

- a typebarhead said...

I had no idea they had a different system. Theres always an education on the typosphere. :)

notagain said...

seriously - it had to be said.
The FP has something similar too.

Adwoa said...

Fascinating post - I first came across this on my Noiseless 7, but I have gotten so used to respooling ribbons for my various Olivettis (I keep a few Olivetti-specific spools around for just this purpose) that I didn't think much of it once I had completed the task. In fact, I just assumed that Remington had gotten with the times and standardized with their later bulbous line of Quiet-Riters, but that is annoying if they still kept up with the proprietary spools! I have learned to be zen about inky fingers... fortunately once renewed, the ribbons last a while on my typers since I distribute the workload amongst several of them. A light load it is too, as I've never used up a new ribbon! Hmmm...

maschinengeschrieben said...

@Michael: On my Remington Deluxe Noiseless, the ribbon covers do operate (wind up) the ribbon!

Richard P said...

A useful post that obviously struck a chord!

The ribbon covers on the Noiseless 7 are supposed to turn; there must be something jammed on yours.

I have a Noiseless (not Remington, but the 3-bank standard machine made in the '20s) and it uses this same sort of core. So we can blame the Noiseless Typewriter Co., not Remington, for introducing the idea. Remington kept it for their noiseless typewriters (both portable and, I think, standard) when they bought the company. In the '50s they decided, for some reason, to start using these cores on all their machines.

J.A. said...

Judith here. That red circle on my pic was to show Tom Furrier at Cambridge Typewriter what I needed - I'd never seen the Remington innards before and didn't know how to describe what was missing!

As for the inky finger problem - I bought a box of 100-count vinyl gloves in the paint department of my local Menards ( I get multiple uses out of a single pair, so I am set for a good while.

I've also seen latex gloves at Michael's crafts, but I find them irritating to my skin.

mpclemens said...

@Richard: Perhaps they do turn, although it's a friction-fit, so I worry about stripping out the inside. I will give them a try. My son has our "noisy noiseless" Model 1: I'll check his, too.

I'll be sure to place my full scorn on the Noiseless company for their engineering decision, though I still find it hard to believe that someone didn't realize the nuisance of those spool-less ribbons.

Anonymous said...

The covers on my Underwood 77 (Yes, a clone of the Noiseless 7) will wind the ribbon as well. I'm also currently using a universal spool from, and it works well, though it makes the spool covers sit higher than they normally would otherwise.

Martin A. Rice, Jr. said...

HA! As I always say, "Remington, typing more but enjoying it less!"