Until the wonder of the Xerox came along and obliterated all competition, the ways of making copies of printed documents were essentially printing presses. The smaller machines differed from their book and newspaper printing brethren mostly in the temporary nature of their templates. Instead of metal letters slathered with ink, most used some sort of wax that would degrade after moderate use, making the good for small document runs, poor for large runs. Last week we hearkened back to the ditto machine, unique in its use not of ink, but of dye impregnated templates, where the dye was removed by a solvent on the paper. In the discussion I mentioned the fact that these machines were often inaccurately referred to as mimeograph machines, despite being a different animal altogether. Reader FЯeeMan was kind enough to mention that
I was a pedantic idiot for mentioning this without explaining the difference others also shared in this confusion, and further edification would be appreciated. So today let’s look back at another Edison wonder invention, the mimeograph.
A mimeograph, or stencil duplicator, works by forcing ink through a stencil onto the paper. In 1876 Thomas Edison received a patent for his Automatic Printing process, which consisted of an electric pen to create the perforated stencils and a flatbed duplicating press. The stencil making process developed later to be usable with a typewriter with the ribbon removed, to allow the metal letters to cut into the stencil.
Mimeograph’s typically produced a darker, more legibile image than the spirit duplicators (ditto machines), and were usually considered to be the next step up in quality. Additionally, the stencils could usually last longer, and later thin metal stencils were used to gain even more endurance.
Next time someone brings up the purple ink and super smell of the mimeograph machine, you can smile knowingly and say “I do believe you mean a ditto.’ Then spend some quite reflection time with them and wonder–what ever happened to mimeograph machines?
Images, in order of appearance, from ovguide.com, antiquehangups.com, adclassix.com, tinalewisrowe.com,
dilanchian.com.au, wired.com, retrooregon.com, and discovernikkei.org. Info from Wikipedia and officemuseum.com.