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the old copier

November 13, 2009

I thought it might be interesting to talk about the old, old copy machine I found in our store room at the new school.  It was neat.  I don’t know if anyone ever showed me how to use it or not.  McCormick must have told me how.  I don’t think I could have figured it out for myself.  It was ideal for making the five to ten copies of worksheets I needed in the class.  I searched through the internet and finally found a process that nearly described what I used.  I copied it off here- as well as  a photo.  At least I hope I get a photo… I’ve never tried it here before.  You are going to be amazed. 

This type of copier was called a hektograph or spirit duplicator.    Earlier copying systems involved pressing or extruding ink through stencils onto sheets of paper. In the hektograph (also spelled “hectograph”) process, which was introduced in 1876 or shortly before, a master was written or typed with a special aniline ink. The master was then placed face down on a tray containing gelatin and pressed gently for a minute or two, with the result that most of the ink transferred to the surface of the gelatin. Gelatin was used because its moisture kept the ink from drying. Copies were made by using a roller to press blank papers onto the gelatin. Each time a copy was made, some ink was removed from the gelatin, and consequently successive copies were progressively lighter. In practice, up to fifty copies could be made from one master. . . . And although the hectograph duplicating process itself was messy, the final products were neater and more readable than those produced [with other means…] An 1887 ad stated that a hektograph could be used to make 15 to 40 good copies of a  letter.   Hektograph copiers were still marketed. . .  in the 1950s.

In 2009, Dale Paul provided the following memory about his use of a hectograph in the late 1940s:  “When I was a small boy (about 60 years ago) it was my job to “run off” the Sunday morning bulletins for my father, who was a pastor. The bulletin was written by using special colored pencils to make a master. The master was then laid face down on a gelatin substance that absorbed the ink from the original. The gelatin was in a pan about 9×12 inches and about 1 inch deep. After removing the original, I would lay plain paper on the gelatin, and the ink would bleed off the gelatin onto the paper, making a copy. When the gelatin got too saturated with ink, dad would liquidize it by heating it and re-pour it into the pan.”                                                          copier

The one I used was very similar to the one shown in the picture although we had an attached roller to roll across the paper to produce an even copy.  I can’t remember that I used an ‘indelible pencil’ to make my worksheets although I may have.  It seems to me that I used a dark line ball point pen.  I would make my original—NO. NO!  I remember what I used!   A previously used mimeo carbon sheet!  Yes!  I would take a plain piece of paper and lay it on the mimeo carbon upside down, writing on the back of the carbon sheet… and make my sheet.  THEN I would lay that on the gelatin pan and roll the roller across it lightly….  When I placed the plain white paper on it and rolled it the ink transferred to the page.  The unit was OLD and it would not make many copies, but I didn’t need many copies.  And it was much quicker and easier than running over to the office in the house to make five.

I’ve often wondered what happened to it.  Probably got tossed. I wish I had it.  It was definitely an antique and I liked using it. The process was pretty facinating.  As far as I know the gel had never been melted and re-poured-at least not while I was there!  It was purple and stained, but it still worked fine.  Don’t  get the idea I’m at all complaining.  I liked it. (I guess I get that from my dad.  He was facinated by old machinery and how things worked.  He would have loved this, too!)  It was neat.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kirit N. Shah permalink
    March 28, 2015 1:38 AM

    I have used this copier when I was 8 years old, to help my father-who was development officer in LIC of India, Morvi,Saurashtra, at that time.

  2. pauline permalink
    April 5, 2015 7:36 AM

    I remember these being used at primary school in the early 70s. I it is weird to say, I can still remember the spirits smell on the paper. And I actually found one in a box of assorted items at a auction. It has not been used still has Gel in sealed plastic and the pack contains a sample rang of coloured duplicating carbon paper/unit and “Cream wove duplicating paper”
    This is called a Gem Hectograph Duplicator. Really sweet.

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