Mimeograph Revival

Mimeograph Revival is dedicated to preserving the printing technologies of an earlier era – with a particular emphasis on the stencil duplicator, the hectograph, and (maybe, as this is still a work in progress) the spirit duplicator. These are the techniques, machines, and processes that have fallen by the wayside, been relegated to “obsolete” status, and nearly forgotten.

Once ubiquitous, these machines ushered in an era in which it became possible for individuals and organizations, including clubs, fraternal organizations, churches, and schools, to quickly, easily, and cheaply reproduce printed matter. Prior to a series of inventions in the late 1800s (Eugenio de Zuccato’s Papyrograph, Thomas Edison’s Autographic Printing process, and David Gestetner’s Automatic Cyclostyle) copies were made by hand or, after the invention of the typewriter and carbon paper in the early 1800s, by the method that allowed a few extra duplicates of an original to be made in one typing pass.

What Gutenberg’s moveable-type method of printing did for the publishing industry, the “mimeograph” did for creators of works more ephemeral than books and broadsides. Advertisements, newsletters, bulletins, worksheets, and of course zines were created and multiplied with the help of stencil and spirit duplicators. Though that most temporary of printed-materials, the newspaper, was printed first by letterpress, then by linotype and lithography, these same technologies were not conducive to small-scale, small print-run projects. They also required training for the specialized skills needed to operate the machinery; on top of that, the machinery was expensive, necessitating sometimes significant capital investment, and it was unwieldy, generally requiring a dedicated printshop far beyond the means or interest of an individual or small group whose main goal was not the printing process itself, but for whom the distribution of house-printed matter could be extremely helpful.

The invention of the photocopying method in the late 1940s and the subsequent rise of Xerox products spelled the end of the mimeograph. The low cost of duplicator copies didn’t outweigh the method’s inconveniences: stencil-making was a slow, often error-prone endeavor; chemicals were a necessary part of the process: correction fluid and ink – or in the case of spirit duplicators, methylated spirits – were all handled by operators, increasing people’s exposure to messy and potentially toxic products. In the end, almost suddenly, duplicators dropped out of common use and the vast majority of the machines were sent to the dump or collected for scrap. Perhaps a few still sit, awaiting liberation from church attics or the garages of those who stored them away for no good reason. A few have been preserved intentionally and maintained, repaired, and used.

Ultimately, Mimeograph Revival exists to aid in the rescue and restoration of our dwindling stock of mimeograph machines, to collect resources for their repair, to explore their historical importance, to make room in the collective imagination for their continued use, and to encourage inventors and tinkerers to add to the knowledge pool so that much-needed supplies and parts can once again be made available.

Navigating the site

The About section gives more details about my vision for this site (and the project in general), my experience, and what inspired me to do this.

The Blog is where I’ll post updates about what’s been added to the site and thoughts on duplicating technologies and their uses, effects, history, etc.

The Projects section lists the machines in my collection that are either working or need cleaning or repair. Quick-links to individual machines are available through the dropdown menu. When I get up and running and have print projects in the works, they’ll be listed there, too.

Resources (formerly “Links”) connects you with others involved in mimeograph duplicating (and its associated and related technologies), to sites with further information, and to sources for supplies. The Mimeograph Library listing the digital and physical document collection, is now filed under Resources.

Contact should be self-evident – at this point it just requires that you leave me a comment. If you don’t want it published, mark it “Not for Publication” and make sure you leave a functional email address so I can contact you that way. Likewise, you can leave a comment on nearly any page here.

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Contribute in any number of ways: by increasing our knowledge base with your experience, suggesting blogpost topics or asking questions, pointing out historical sources that provide details about duplicating methods, scanning duplicating documents for filesharing here, or sharing mimeo projects currently (or historically) undertaken; by saving old duplicating equipment and supplies, either for yourself or to pass along (or sell) to someone else – let’s save the mimeos! And lastly, if you’ve benefitted from anything here and wish to contribute to my supplies fund, there’s an option for that.

The Print Shop is where you’ll find duplicating-related items for purchase. The Cart is your shopping cart – it doesn’t show if you have items in it until you click on it.

Mimeograph Revival