Bulk Order of Typewriter Ribbon from Baco Ribbon & Supply Co.

Having surpassed the 10 typewriter mark in my collection, I felt it was time to invest in some more serious typewriter ribbon for the “fleet”. There are some purveyors charging in the range of $10-20 for typewriter ribbon (and yes! people do still sell and buy typewriter ribbon!)  I’m pretty sure by buying from closer to the source that I could drop the price down significantly and potentially save the money toward repairs, new platens, or even other machines. 

Naturally the first stop was Richard Polt’s site, where he lists a handful of purveyors. I’ve heard good things in general about Baco both from Richard and Joe Van Cleave as well as others in the past few months, so I took the plunge and ordered a full reel of 660 yards of nylon black/red typewriter ribbon for $65. It should keep all my machines inked for quite a while. 

Given that the typical standard/universal spool will accommodate 16 yards, this should be 41.25 spools. This also brings the price down to a far more economical $1.60 per spool versus the much higher level others are charging, particularly since I generally self-wind my own ribbon onto original metal spools and don’t need the additional plastic waste. It also has the added benefit of supporting the efforts of Charlene Oesch until she decides to retire. 

If you’re in the market, here are the basic details to call and place an order (she specifically doesn’t have and doesn’t want a website), but she’s definitely still in business, carrying on in the tradition of her father since at least 1949:

Baco Ribbon & Supply Co.
Charlene Oesch

1521 Carman Road
Ballwin, MO  63021 United States

bacoribbon@sbcglobal.net
+1 (314) 835-9300
+1 (536) 394-5475 (fax)

 

Baco takes both credit card and PayPal and ships within about a day via USPS in the United States. 

Current offerings/pricing (subject to change):

  • 660 yards (full reel) of nylon ribbon in black or black/red for $65
  • 330 yards (half reel) of nylon ribbon in black or black/red for $45
  • 550 yards of silk ribbon in black or black/red for $220
  • 295 yards of cotton in black or black/red for $75

With some lead time, she can do other colors if necessary, though she typically doesn’t keep those in stock all the time according to our conversation today. She has the option to pretty easily do blue, green, and purple in single colored reels. 

I could be in for some blue/green or purple/green ribbon, which I imagine she could pull off if anyone wanted to go in on a reel or so to make it worth the time and effort to set it up. Let me know if you’re interested. Similarly if someone wanted to split an order for silk, I could be game for that too. 

Have you tried other manufacturers? Who is your favorite bulk ribbon supplier? 

Now I’m off to find some grommets and a custom pair of pliers for them…

A Small Brother Charger 11 Repair Surgery

I spent some time today doing surgery on my Brother Charger 11 Correction typewriter. It was quite relaxing to tinker around for a bit and appreciate the sparse, but clever and solid internals of this late model JP-1 machine that the serial number dates to January 1985. 

Wooden table with a blue towel on top of a portion. On top of that is the internal frame and components of a typewriter with the hood, bottom, and side piece of the machine sitting behind it. Strewn around it are a variety of screwdrivers and small tools as well as a can of compressed air.

I managed to clean out a lot of white somewhat sticky cruft, ostensibly from the correction ribbon this machine once had. I initially thought it would all blow out quickly with canned air, but it really needed some careful work with my typewriter brush and some Q-tips. The spots on the still supple rubber platen and rollers came off pretty quickly with some rubbing alcohol.

I quickly found the re-connected the spring that was preventing the margin release from working properly.  I then tracked down the issue I was seeing with the vibrator assembly. It turns out someone had worked on this before and neglected to replace two small screws and nuts to hold the assembly down to the frame and at the appropriate distance from the platen. Without them it just sort of floats around between the basket and the platen. I’ll have to pick up a pair of them at the hardware store to be able to reattach it and then adjust it to the proper distance from the platen. Hopefully the rest of that assembly will operate properly once attached, particularly the bichrome lever which seems somewhat flimsy.

View of the bottom of a Brother Charger 11 with the bottom plate removed. One can see the metal escapement above which a screwdriver is pointing at two empty holes where screws and nuts ought to be to hold the ribbon vibrator assembly in place.

Beyond this the only outstanding thing I see, besides adding a new ribbon, is that the end of the backspace assembly isn’t attached to anything. It ends in a small question mark-like but very sturdy hook which I presume would have attached to either a spring or a metal wire, but I’m going to need to consult either another machine or find a service manual which details what the assembly is supposed to look like. If anyone has a helpful photo of the bottom of their Charger 11 from that hook to the escapement assembly, that would be most helpful. 

View from the back of an upside down typewriter. In the front is a small copper colored bell  and moving toward the back we see a small question mark-esque hook peeking out from between two plates on the frame of the typewriter. Something should be attached to it to actuate the backspace key.

The last couple of tweaks should have this back in perfectly serviced operating order. Its almost as clean and new as when it rolled off the assembly line 39 years and 4 months ago.

I received this machine on March 12th and just realized that I never really took any photos of it or played around with it at the time in part because that’s the day my car’s engine died. I’ll see what I can do to finish this up soon, so that I can do a proper acquisition post and include some photos of the exterior as well as a proper typeface sample.

A wooden library card catalog on which sits a 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe Typewriter next to a crystal old fashioned glass and a fifth of Glenmorangie in a scotch bottle. To one side is a blue vase with small pink roses.

I’ve seen many references comparing the use of typewriters in an overstimulating technology space to the slow food movement. Since one regularly pairs wine with their meals, it only seems right to extend the typewriter analogy to liquor as well. Today, I’m pairing this smooth 10 year single malt Glenmorangie Scotch with the 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe.

Surely Hemingway would approve?

Type-o-sphere, what are you pairing with your typewriter today?

Typewritten index card in green elite type repeating the words of the paragraphs above.

Yellowed catalog page with photos of 5 portable typewriters labeled A-E with blocks of corresponding text below to describe them all and provide their list prices. The headline over the description reads: PORTABLE TYPEWRITERS.. NEW post-war models

Digging into some typewriter pricing history, I found a copy of the 1949 Sears Spring/Summer Catalog, which lists a version of my 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe typewriter (Sears SKU: 3 NM 4584T with Pica Type) for $95.08 on page 285. 

Converting 1949 dollars to 2024 using an inflation calculator indicates this is now worth $1,247.75. Considering that I got it for less than the original sale price in 2024 (including shipping) and that it works as well now as it did then, I feel like I got a pretty solid deal.

For comparison the competing portable models in the catalog included:

  • Royal Arrow $84.48
  • Smith-Corona Clipper $84.27
  • Smith-Corona Sterling $89.57
  • Remington Portable $84.27
  • Remington Portable with Tabulator $89.57
  • Underwood Leader $63.40

They also listed the Tower, a standard size desk typewriter, for $99.00 saying it was just a few dollars more than the portables.

For further comparison, the prior year, the 1948 Smith-Corona Clipper, a model of which I also own, was listed for $76.85. Adjusted for inflation this would be $995.96.

Watched Royal Typewriter Platen Variable Repair, Roller Removal by Phoenix TypewriterPhoenix Typewriter from YouTube
I was seeing this issue on my 1949 Royal QDL. I figured it’d be an easy fix.

Turns out, it was exactly my issue and the pieces had “frozen up”. A quick clean out and we’re back in business in under 20 minutes.

Acquisition: 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable Typewriter

For the rapidly decreasing amount of space I’ve got for storing and actively using the handful of machines I’ve got in my burgeoning typewriter collection, I’ve begun to become a bit more discerning of new acquisitions. I had yet to add a Royal the fleet, and I’ve had my eye on a handful, but the ones that stuck out most vividly to me were a span of years in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Today  a Royal Quiet De Luxe (often seen abbreviated as QDL) has joined the family. 

A gray typewriter sits at an angle on the top of a 20 drawer wooden library card catalog. Next to it is a stack of index cards and a small wooden shadow box with three Lego people posing inside.

Design

The kicker on this typewriter model for me, beyond the general beauty of this era of Royals, was reading that Henry Dreyfuss (1904-1972), one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century, had produced a model of the QDL for Royal in 1948. In my opinion, it’s one of the prettiest in the entire Royal line, and possibly in the pantheon of typewriters in general. Really, who could resist the textured crinkle gray magic paint, the hint of yellow in the lettering, with just enough black and shiny chrome, combined with metal wrapped glass keys that lovingly cup your fingertips?

Also intriguing to me was that Dreyfuss had lived, until his death in 1972, in South Pasadena, California seven tenths of a mile from my old apartment on Orange Grove Boulevard and less than 7 miles from my current home in Altadena, CA. It seems very apropos to have a neighbor’s typewriter in the house.

For those who are unaware of his name, you’re surely aware of his work which included the design of iconic products which included the Western Electric Model 500 telephone, the Princess phone, and the Trimline phone;  several John Deere tractors; the ubiquitous round Honeywell T87 thermostat; Polaroid’s SX-70 camera; the Westclox Big Ben clock; Hoover’s model 150 vacuum cleaner, and the New York Central Railroad’s streamlined Mercury train as well as their Hudson locomotive for the 20th Century Limited

It could easily fit into a dark academia setting and might be the typewriter you could imagine Cary Grant, George Clooney, or Jude Law would have on their desks.

Henry Dreyfuss’ Royal QDL certainly meets both of William Morris’ criteria when he instructed “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” As the brief typewriter manual touts, the machine “will add grace to any room or setting.” It is not wrong. This machine is both handsome and dapper all at once. If a typewriter were to wear a business suit bordering on formal, this model would be the life of the cocktail party wearing a debonair hat. 

Overall Condition

The serial number on the machine is A-1927573 which the Typewriter Database dates to 1949. Based on the spread of serial numbers from that production year, this was likely manufactured in December of 1949.  This means that this machine will celebrate its 75th birthday this coming Winter. I intend to give it the 75th year it richly deserves.

Serial number A-1927573 stamped into black metal recessed into the gray frame of the typewriter.
The serial number on the 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe can be found on the top left corner of the machine underneath the carriage.

I bought this in an online auction with very little information to go on, but things have turned out exceedingly well for just a few dollars. The typewriter came with the original case, a small 14 page manual describing it as “Gray Magic”, and a Royal typewriter brush. The machine itself has almost no external flaws or scratching. It definitely shows some signs of use and age, but the exterior cleaned up very well.

All the keys worked well aside from one or two which may need some minor attention for borderline stickiness. The machine’s shift keys were binding when I pressed them, but I couldn’t see anything obviously causing any issues. A quick trip to Phoenix Typewriter’s YouTube channel identified the problem and a fix that was done in about two minutes of simple adjustment by properly forming a small metal tab.

The variable spacer on the left platen knob also seems to have an issue, but I can easily get around it functionally until I have a few minutes to figure out what might be causing the problem. I’ll also have to do a quick clean out of the insides to remove some built up oil and dust and give it a quick service. The rubber feet and the platen have certainly seen better days; I’ll get around to replacing them shortly.

The ribbon it came with, a standard black and red on the original (universal) spools, still has some reasonable life left in it.

The case which has a predominantly yellow and black flecked tweed wrap has seen some action but is in generally good shape for its age. The interior seems near mint while the exterior has a few minor discolorations and one small stain. One of my favorite upcycle recommendations: “With the Portable removed,” as stated in the manual, “the case may be used as an ideal overnight bag.” I could almost imagine that Roger O. Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959) wished he’d had such a case when embarking on his escape on the Twentieth Century Limited from Grand Central Station with Eve Kendall. In fact, I’d almost swear that a brunette version of Eva Marie Saint is on the cover of the typewriter’s manual.

Keys

The Royal earns the “De Luxe” portion of its name with the lush keys alone. While many newer typewriters of its era were converting to less expensive mass manufactured plastic keys, the QDL went with somewhat square keys with a domed top. Some might describe them as “tombstone” keys, but their subtle roundness provides a memento mori that makes you elated to be alive and using them. The letters are a very light yellow against a black background with the yellow hints being picked up again in the numbered hashes on the paper table scale. Over the keys are polished glass which is indented slightly. The manual calls them “Finger-Flow Keys” which are “designed to cradle your fingertips.” The tactile experience is sublime.

The 49 key keyboard is a standard American typewriter set up without any frills like a “1” or an “=”. The usual back space and margin release (labeled “Mar Rel”) are present along with both left and right “Shift Freedom” shift keys and a shift “lock” key on the left side. (The typewriter has a basket shift rather than a carriage shift.) A “tab” key sits in the top right of the keyboard next to the */- key on the top row.

The front of the keyboard features an ample black Bakelite space bar which forms the front edge of the machine. It’s presence helps to ground the machine and balance out the black Quiet De Luxe badge and platen at the top of the machine. This design prevents one’s thumbs from hitting a front metal frame of the typewriter, which happens on some poorly designed models in which the spacebar doesn’t sit above the frame with enough clearance. 

View down onto the keyboard of the Royal Quiet De Luxe.

 

The Royal badging on the front of the machine and featuring a close up of the keys for 5, 6, 7, and 8 which have a shiny glass reflection on them.

Other Functionality

This is the first machine I’ve had with an adjustable or disappearing card finger which one can move down out of the way with a quick pivot. This pivot is useful for more easily switching ribbons, but given the number of index cards I go through, it’s likely to stay in the up position most of the time.

I’ve never previously had a typewriter with a Magic Margin™, but this one has got a small metal switch on the back left of the machine which allows one to set the left margin quickly and easily with a tiny pull. Of course one can flip up the paper table behind the platen to expose the two metal margin set mechanisms which can be set manually. I love how Dreyfuss has cleverly hidden this functionality. I’d have to take a look at the margin set mechanisms to ensure the escapement would be protected properly, but when storing the typewriter, one could quickly center the carriage and set the margins for the center character as a pseudo-carriage lock. 

A close up of the left rear of the Royal Quiet De Luxe featuring a chrome level labeled Magic Margin.

View of the back of the typewriter with the paper table opened up to show the two silver sliders for setting the left and right margins.

Unlike later typewriters of the mid to late 1950s which had an almost infinite number of tab stops, this Royal Quiet De Luxe is equipped with a bar on the back of the carriage with five individual stop mechanisms which can be set as desired by sliding them into place.

View of the adjustable tab stops on the back of the typewriter. Each of the metal blocks can be slid along the toothed metal bar which has the same type measurements as the typing scales on the front. Red arrows on four of the blocks pictured show tabs set at 25, 35, 45, and 55.

Just above the keyboard, almost functioning like the cummerbund of the typewriter’s tuxedo, sits a subtle band of chrome with two small, elegant but somehow substantial horizontal switches. The left switch manages the direction of the ribbon. On the opposite side is the traditional slider with red, blue and white for switching between the bottom (red) and top (blue) of the ribbon or choosing the stencil setting (white). 

The case has a clever hinge lock that can be actuated with one finger while sliding the top of the case right with respect to the bottom to remove it from the hinge posts. The case also has a convenient clip for the brush as well as for the manual and any other papers one might wish to take. Also mounted in the top of the case is a carriage protector meant to keep the carriage in place while in transit as the machine doesn’t have a carriage lock.

Back corner of the inside of the case with a black metal clip on the left hinge. Pulling the flat portion of the clip would allow the top of the case to be slid off of the bottom. The top and bottom halves of the case have been separated. At the hinge portions of the bottom we see two metal posts to which the top of the case would be slid onto.

View into the top of the case with a deep red interior. There is a silver metal clip holding a 2 inch black plastic brush with short bristles and a white Royal logo and a large black U shaped clip for holding a variety of papers against the top of the lid--in this case we see the typewriter manual featureing a woman sitting merrily at a typewriter.

The bottom of the case has two black rails with four silver metal pins and black metal thumb locks. The pins fit into the bottom of the typewriter’s feet and the thumb locks slide easily to lock the typewriter into the case.

The red bottomed inside of the case with two black metal strips.

Close up of the right side of the typewriter locked into its case with two thumb levers visible at the front and back.

Typeface Sample

The pitch on this machine is 10 characters per inch (pica). The full platen is 94 characters wide with 6 spaces coming before the ‘0’ marker.

3x5 inch index card with red lines that serves as a typing sample. It reads: 1949 Royal De Luxe Serial number: A-1927573 Pica typeface; portable Designed by Henry Dreyfuss 234567890- qwertyuiop asdfghjkl; "#$%&'()* QWERTYUIOP ASDFGHJKL:@ zxcvbnm,./ ZXCVBNM,.? the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog A VERY BAD QUACK MIGHT JINX ZIPPY FOWLS

Sound

Here’s a sound sample of inserting an index card, writing a sentence, the bell, and a return on the 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe:

Photo Gallery

Yellow and black tweed carrying case of the Royal Quiet De Luxe sitting on a polished wooden table. Royal Quiet De Luxe in it's open case sits on a dark wooden table. Oblique angle of the Royal Quiet De Luxe in its open case Vertical shot of a grey typewriter in an open case with a red interior. Table level image of the Royal Quiet De Luxe View into the basket of the Royal Quiet De Luxe which is threaded with black and red ribbon. Close up of the left side of the Royal Quiet De Luxe under the hood. In the front is the Touch Control setting with a lever which can be set from 0 to 9 View of the bottom of the Royal Quiet De Luxe showing off all the moving internal parts. Table level view of the Royal Quiet De Luxe featuring it's shiny gold Royal decal which is blurrily reflected in the waxed wooden table surface. Close up of the subtle crinkle texture of the gray magic paint on the hood of the Royal Quiet De Luxe Black plastic typewriter brush with short black bristles. The Royal logo is impressed onto the base. View into the basket of the Royal Quiet De Luxe from behind. In the background one can see the keyboard.