Secrets of a carbon ribbon

by | Mar 29, 2018 | Olivetti | 11 comments

One of the great advantages of a typewriter is that, unlike the device on which you’re reading this, it doesn’t let people or robots halfway around the world steal your information.

But typewriters that use carbon ribbons, like my Olivetti Editor 2, do retain a record of what was written on them.

The used carbon ribbon can be read …

… and I couldn’t resist the temptation to investigate the old ribbon that came with my Editor. I discovered that this ribbon was used in Arkansas from 1986 to 2002, before sitting around another 16 years until I bought the typewriter for $8.99. The machine was used for business, religion, humor, and more.

Because of the motion of the ribbon and occasional corrections, reading this text is not as easy as just picking up a book. Let’s see if you can do it. (Of course, I am not reproducing any personal identifying information.) I’ll provide a hint for every snippet.

1. What a nurse!

2. She raps knuckles:

3. You can’t go home again:

4. Hand over the mazuma, buster:

5. I really can save lives!

6. Kickin’ ’em out:

7. Ever more angels in yellow vehicles:

8. You scratch my soul and I’ll scratch yours:

9. Love’s luncheon:

10. Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!

11. Swept off to Oz!

12. Pauline lessons:

13. Riddles of omnipotence:

14. Wardrobe malpractice:

15. Model behavior:

16. Loose lips:

17. Marked with a †

18. Preparing to be reunited:

19. Testing, testing:

Olivetti carbon ribbons are long, at least twice as long as ones for the IBM Selectric. This was quite a collection of information, and an intriguing glimpse into moments in the life of this typewriter and its former owners.


  1. Peter

    Along the same lines, if I were concerned about the privacy of letters I type to family and friends, I would have to secure the sheets of carbon paper I use the make copies for my own files. At least until each sheet was used a few times and the text was obscured.

  2. David Brechbiel

    My wife and I were deciphering together. She thinks this would form the basis of your first mystery/crime novel! Fun post.

  3. Unknown

    I seem to remember that there was a Columbo episode that hinged on this kind of thing.

  4. Richard P

    According to a comment I got on Facebook, "In an episode starring Jack Cassidy as a murdering magician Columbo finds evidence on the ribbon of his IBM Selectric II." And another comment says that a carbon ribbon "also played a part in Naked Heat, a real book written by fictitious writer Richard Castle. It even has type keys [typeslugs] on the cover, (tho the typewriter in question is a 'dinosaur of a IBM Selectric.'"

  5. Bill M

    A real carbon footprint.

  6. MTCoalhopper

    You laugh, but what if someone could find a way to "sequester" all the evil carbon into new typewriter ribbons? Could we really be saving the environment by bringing back non-digital communication? Viva la revolucion!

  7. Richard P

    I think we just found the way to save the planet.

  8. DonN

    Mixed up the panties eh?

  9. Richard P

    They were supposed to be gloves. The joke goes on to recount the note that the boyfriend sent with the gift.

  10. Unknown

    An episode of Miss Fischer and od NCIS, used this premise, but the former was a plot in the 20's before the invention of the carbon ribbon, and the latter was a typewriter that used a fabric ribbon.Lazy writer research.


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