So-Cal Mimeos Looking for a Home

A collection of mimeograph machines and supplies is available in Inglewood, California. They’re no longer being used and are just in storage for the time being.

In addition to the AB Dick Model 434 pictured above, there are other machines including Speed-O-Print, Gestener, other AB Dick, etc. They’re free for anyone who can use them. Please send me an email at [Wendy] [at symbol] [name of this website] if you’re interested. Or reply here.

Let’s rescue the mimeos!


Production-Level Duplicating

Mimeomania member David Kasprzak recently posted about his knowledge of 1970s mimeograph use. Reposted here (with changes for clarity) with his permission:

I get asked all the time, “How did printing companies use mimeographs?” My Grandfather’s old company started with offset presses, then added mimeographs from both A. B. Dick and Gestetner. In the beginning they had secretaries who typed stencils for local businesses’ printing jobs . Most of the work was bulletins, letters for mailing, and reports. Mimeographs were used daily, there were 6 going all day long printing various jobs.

Around the end of the 70s, data processing became the fad. Computers started flowing into the offices. Our office was no different, the word processor began to take hold. The older Varitypers and IBM Composers and mag card machines began to go silent.

A.B. Dick came out with continuous feed stencils. WordSTAR was the processing software of choice at that time. The copy was input into this program, then formatted for the pages. The fonts were chosen. The continuous feed stencils were loaded into the printer; only certain printers that had a bottom feed could be used, such as the GE Line Printer or the Qume printers. The special stencils came in a box of 250 – they didn’t have headers on them, and they were already interleaved with cushion sheets and backing papers. It was the backing paper that had the perforations for the tractor feeders. You could not use a machine that was friction feed as it put a lot of extra marks on the stencils as they passed through the machine.

A dummy copy was printed out before the stencil job was run, to check for errors and formatting. This mock-up copy was used to tell the final printing groups what stencils to use and where to paste in the electronic stencil images.

This was quite a production to do a small cookbook or corporate report, but it was easier than typing the stencils. You could not use electronic stencils for each page as it took too long and was at that time too expensive to use for every page.

Once the package was ready to print, the font wheel was inserted into the machine, stencils were loaded, and the job as printed.

When done, the work was inspected for perfection and then the whole package was sent to the prepress department for assembly, the stencils were torn apart and headers pasted into the masters.

Work for adding images was also done here. When ready it was sent to the press room for printing.

All stencils were filed for future use and reprints.

Sometimes the GE Printers were used for printing out spreadsheets and workbooks of financial nature, they worked better than the daisy wheel printers.

Wordstar was a great processor and did an excellent job at the time. This was all before windows came to be the software of choice – everything was done in DOS.

That is how it was done in the old times to speed up production.

Several commenters also posted about their experiences with other aspects of duplicating work. Check out the original post if you’re interested!

New additions Updates

July Update

Well, it’s been quiet around here! Nonetheless, over the last few months, I’ve been doing some behind-the-scenes work to make up for my lack of actual creative output.

With none of the fanfare one might expect of such thing, I’ve launched a “print shop” to offer print-on-demand copies of mostly-mimeo, but also other eclectic publications (mostly things in the public domain that deserve saving in print). Right now there’s only one thing that’ll be of interest to duplicating aficionados, and that’s a very nice copy of A. B. Dick’s “Fundamentals of Mimeographing” in a spiral-bound format.

That same volume is available for free in digital format in the library. The print version has essentially been “remastered” to clean up yellowed pages and remove stains and marks of age; all original color pages are presented in color. Additionally, its spiral binding allows it to lie flat for easy use while you follow the mimeographing lessons.

It’s pretty snazzy! If you’ve ever wanted a step-by-step guide to plunk down on your work table while you figure out stencils and ink and what all the parts of the mimeograph machine are called, I think you’ll really like it.


More recently I “catalogued” the advertisements and sales brochures currently available in the library after having uploaded some twenty or more documents scanned by Kevin B. from his physical collection.

A similar list has been compiled for the collection found on the Service and Instruction Manuals page (a collection that has also been filled out by Kevin’s generous efforts).

Both lists reveal significant additions since my last update post.


History How-to

The Pre-Hectographs, part 1: The State of Copying up to the Early Industrial Revolution

No, the pre-hectographs were not members of an art and cultural movement the way the pre-Raphaelites were. To our eyes they look simply like interim technologies, even like failures cast aside in the long winnowing process of time. But were they, ultimately? Will someone in the future decide to loop back around and pick one of these methods up, the way many of us in the digital age have looked back to mimeographs and hectographs and their offshoots, the spirit duplicators? Will they turn out, in the end, to be the vehicles of some future art and cultural movement? Only time will tell.

Who’s to say what constitutes a failed (or obsolete) technology when none of us know the full course of human endeavors far into the future?

Certainly some of the methods I came across as I searched through records for information on pre-hectograph (or contemporaneous) copying techniques look like failures. They fell out of use – or were never picked up at all – though their inventors pinned high hopes to them. But I don’t think they necessarily failed at anything more than an inability to stand out and get “picked up” in a time of intense technological innovation.

Ok, one or more of them probably failed because they were far too complex to either make or use; here I point to the “pantograph” as patented by Henry Neumeyer in 1856, which, unlike its namesake, the pantograph invented by Heron of Alexandria in the first century AD (replica pictured here) complexified something relatively simple…

Wikimedia Commons

The pantograph was modified in 1631 by Christoph Scheiner, a German astronomer.

Wikimedia Commons

It was reconfigured by Claude Langlois in 1744, with this iteration refining the ultimate in simple tools designed to complete a complex job (of making a copy of an original drawing perfectly to scale), seen here,

Wikimedia Commons

Compare those, then, to Neumeyer’s pantograph that looked like this:

screenshot from patent

and this

screenshot from patent

I can’t make heads or tails of it, honestly, other than to note that a writing implement is connected through gears to… other things.

I don’t think it was widely manufactured and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was because of its extreme complexity.

Basically, for as much of pre-industrial human history as we know about, copying texts was a human-scale skill in that it required the direct copying effort (as in, a re-creation of the original) on the part of either the originator or a person trained as a scribe, copyist, or a clerk to do the same. Of course students of many subjects and at various levels of mastery copied texts for their own use, or in the case of images, the act of copying existing works of art was itself a training exercise. Actually the same is true of texts – writing out passages by hand has long been recognized as a useful way to train the mind as well as the eye and the hand – but when the desired result is a copy for a copy’s sake, it’s rather slow going.

Wikimedia Commons

A momentary interlude – into the fine arts

As late as 1799, several methods were available to artists who wished to copy prints and engravings or perhaps their own work for reuse. That year’s edition of The Laboratory; or School of the Arts -containing a large collection of valuable secrets, experiments, and manual operations in arts and manufactures gives details (p.36).*

It is the second method of the volume that might be of interest to stencil-duplicating experimenters, as it hews very close to that method though it veers off at the end. Essentially, the same process is followed to achieve a tracing, then, the tracing is punctured along the drawn lines with a sharp needle attached to a stick (to avoid poking your finger) so that a clean sheet of paper below it is also lightly punctured. That sheet is then rubbed with “finely powdered charcoal, with a little stump, or roller, made up of a narrow slip of cloth, or flannel” – this provides an outline that can then be drawn over with ink. Where this might be useful from a stencil standpoint is if the punctured tracing can serve the stencil’s function, allowing the charcoal to fall through to the page below – of course the page below need not be punctured in that case.

The remaining three methods involve two types of what amounts to homemade carbon paper (one prepared with “vermilion or black lead dust, mixt with a little fresh butter” and the other with lampblack mixed also with butter). The third calls for “lanthern horn” – sheets of thinly sliced cow horn traditionally used as panes in lanterns (actually available here) – upon which a design could be traced or drawn in India ink to then be breathed upon several times and, thus moistened, transferred in reverse to a moistened sheet of paper.

It seems unlikely that any of us will have vermilion, black lead dust, or thinly-sliced cow horn on hand, though lampblack (soot) might make an appearance; so these recipes are probably of limited value and are presented here mostly to appease historical curiosity. (Actually, maybe my curiosity isn’t totally appeased. I am considering a later post on the various types of carbon paper I’ve come across…)

The ages-old method of hand-copying text changed as the Industrial Revolution (1760 to about 1840) prompted most of its sufferers into a frenzy of productivity that stimulated mechanical and chemical experimentation. This resulted in James Watt’s copy press and eventually the hectograph.

But first, to trace the earlier signs of some of that experimentation, we turn to W. B. Proudfoot’s The Origin of Stencil Duplicating, where we learn that John Evelyn’s diary mentions an ink developed by 1655 that would “give a dozen copies when moist sheets of paper were pressed to it” (pp.18-19). No other details are given; there’s no mention of the use of a press or the type of paper utilized, and unfortunately, the ink recipe is not included.

Later, other copying inks would be developed, including this simple version described in 1881, employing the use of glycerin – a product discovered only in 1779 and thus not available to our 1655 ink-maker.

We might be able to infer that, minus James Watt’s 1780 invention of the copy press and the 1881 author’s use of glycerin-infused ink, the overall method employed by the 1655 copyist was similar to later developments in its use of slow-drying ink, dampened papers, and manual pressure, perhaps applied by hand; however, it was Watt’s invention (and his specialized ink) that changed the nature of copying tremendously.

We’ll pick up with Watt in the next post and explore the method of copying he invented and that was put into use around the world, with an eye toward recovering that and other pre-hectographic duplicating methods.

screenshot from – public domain image depicting James Watt’s copying press.


*Hat-tip to Joyce Godsey, proprietor of Time Traveller’s Rabbit Hole, who shared this gem See also her facebook group, here. Earlier versions of this book (1750 and 1770) do not include the copying methods.


Online sources cited above.

For a timeline-derived overview with images, please see The Early Office Museum’s Antique Copy Machines page.

Printed text:

Proudfoot, W. B. 1972. The Origin of Stencil Duplicating. Hutchinson and Co., Ltd.: London.


Stencil printing with another obsolete technology

Mimeomania member Jukka Lääti demonstrated what’s possible with a dot matrix printer when combined with a mimeograph stencil sheet (the old kind, wax covered).

Photo courtesy of Jukka Lääti, Facebook.

If you have a facebook account, I recommend the video that was provided with the images here.

Amazing detail and resolution. I’m kinda bummed I didn’t buy a dot matrix printer instead of a fax machine!


Efficiency takes the life out of life

Photo courtesy of Claudia Tan Danwei, from Facebook.
New additions Updates

November Update

Nearly 40 documents have been uploaded to the site, thanks to Mimeograph Revival reader Kevin B. who scanned them from his collection. They include advertisements, sales catalogs, and instruction and parts manuals from popular manufacturers ranging from AB Dick and Heyer to Rex Rotary and Roneo, and including less widely known machines from Banda, CopyRite, and Ellams.

On the back end of the site, a few things have been reorganized in the “projects” section in preparation for eventual print works. The duplicating project got started with a hurrah once my fax-machine woes got sorted out, but then I got slammed with a big series of work projects just as I was figuring out that my Heyer Lettergraph Model D has a likely impression-roller issue.

The next few weeks will have me assessing whether this is the case and deciding if I need to get the roller refurbished – possibly making it time for me to review the work needed on the Heyer Model 1770 and see if I can get it running even though it’s got scars from its battle with the USPS.

I also made up a gelatin duplicator (hectograph) and used it to make a few dozen prints of the cover for the project I’d started on the Model D. A post is forthcoming with more details on that.

In addition, I’m considering putting together a print-on-demand book or two of some of the documents available here. If that’s something of interest to anyone else, please let me know!

Meanwhile, the comments sections of various pages and posts are little treasure troves of useful information provided by MR readers with years of mimeograph experience. It is rather inconvenient that they’re scattered all over the place, so I wonder if a dedicated forum would be something other mimeo enthusiasts would like to see (maybe especially those who don’t want to be involved with facebook or who can’t access it from their country).

Please leave a comment here if any of these things sound useful to you!

How-to Trial and Error

Functional Fax, Finally

-plus tips to ensure that you get a good machine-

With a new Brother Intellifax 775, I am now in thermal-stencil-making business. I prepped my Riso master sheet, inserted it into the paper feed tray, put my original into the scanner feed tray, hit copy, and voila, a thermal stencil with good resolution and no marring of the thermal paper.

It was pointed out to me that I could easily apply tape over the cartridge sensor lever to trick the machine into thinking a cartridge was in place (see photo below). Thermal paper could then be taped to a sheet of paper and, when run through the paper feed mechanism, the thermal printer would print directly on the thermal paper. That trick prevents the massive hassle of winding thermal paper onto cartridge rolls.

Should you wish to use a thermal fax machine to print stencils, I recommend the following:

  • Get the newest machine you can.
  • If you get one that is “new in box” make sure it’s NOT a model that has been sitting in its box since the 1980s. Or even the 1990s… and maybe not even since the early 2000s. Really, get the newest machine you can. Unfortunately you’ll likely be guessing when any particular fax machine was made – I have had no luck figuring out the manufacture dates of particular models; that information doesn’t seem to be publicly available. Still, you can kind of tell by brands’ model numbers that, in many cases, increase in relation to later release dates.
  • If the fax machine is used, ask the seller to test the copy function and send you proof that the output is clean. Ideally see a photo of both the original and the copy. If the seller says they can’t do that because they don’t have a cartridge installed, think long and hard about the purchase.
  • Purchase only from sellers who accept returns.
  • Test the fax machine immediately upon receipt – I waited too long with my first one because I was busy with other things and missed the chance to get a refund for its being non-functional.

Had I done those things, I could’ve saved myself some trouble. Oh well, at least I gained the experience with which I can help you make a better fax-purchase decision.

Here is what you want to look for:

  • A plain-paper thermal fax machine* – this prints on regular (letter or A4 depending on your location) copy paper with a thermal-printer mechanism.

Avoid laser, laserjet, and inkjet fax machines. They do not have the thermal printer unit that Riso master paper requires.

Alternatively, you can try one of these:

  • An Older-style thermal fax machine that prints on rolls of thermal “fax paper.” If you try this, make sure that the rolls are the same width as the Riso master rolls you wish to use. In some cases you can just swap out the thermal paper with the Riso master roll.

*Today I spent some time looking for the latest in thermal fax machines. I hate to break it to you, but there isn’t one. Most (all?) thermal fax machines have been discontinued. I checked the following manufacturers: Brother, HP, and Sharp. Likewise, neither Amazon, Walmart, Staples, OfficeDepot, nor Best Buy are carrying new thermal fax machines. Ah, the poignant sound of another obsolete technology slipping out of reach.

Your best bet is your local used-goods market/garage sale circuit, or online via ebay or facebook marketplace.

If you don’t need to make stencils from originals that are already on paper and are willing to produce directly from your computer, you can try a “pocket printer” that uses thermal printing technology. A Mimeomania member reports good results with a Paperang A4 printer (300dpi) and a quick search shows several such things for sale on various sites. Looks like A4 size is cheaper than letter size – but, since Riso paper is most easily found in A4 size, Americans don’t have to aim for letter-sized since stencil size can be flexible.

If you’d rather have a plain-paper fax machine, I can attest that the Brother Intellifax 775 works for this purpose. In addition, I’ve seen videos with the Intellifax 575 making thermal tattoo stencils, and of course Stampalofi uses a Philips (model unknown).

Trial and Error

Crazy mimeographing guinea pig, at your service

I have run into all sorts of either “dumb luck” or “this is reality” with my ongoing experiments. I try take the sting out of it a little bit by accepting that I am doing these experiments in the service of a greater good – but gee, is it somewhat discouraging to keep hitting one dead end after another.

But, you know, I’m failing so that eventually you won’t have to, because someday I’ll be able (fingers crossed) to point out a path toward accessible, affordable, and somewhat fool-proof duplicating. Or at least that’s what I hope.

You may recall my first foray into thermal stencil-making with the impressively sturdy Pitney Bowes 8050 fax machine that nobody had ever heard of:

Ok, that’s not exactly true. One person had heard of it, but I’ll get to that in a minute. When I got around to plugging it in and found that something was haywire in its internal workings (a result of it sitting around, new-in-box, for too many years), I looked high and low for a repair manual or other information on it. None of the fax repair companies I contacted had even heard of this model. In the end, fellow mimeo-enthusiast Plaugolt SatzWechsler (or psw), the one person in the world who knew this model, and who was using this same machine to produce mimeograph stencils contacted me. Her own PB8050 had seen heavy use and was starting to falter. So, for the cost of shipping it to Germany, I gave her mine. She and a circuit-board-savvy friend figured out what ailed it, repaired it and are now putting it to good use.

My second fax machine, a Sharp UX-108 was incapable of printing stencils. My guess is there was something wrong with the thermal printer – very spotty results and lots of blank space where there ought to have been print. Thankfully the seller accepted a return.

At this point, I thought it might be best to give up on fax machines even though psw and stampalofi were having good luck with them.

So, I caved in and bought one of those darned Chinese-made thermal tattoo-stencil printers. You know:

I started using it not long after I purchased it – that was how I made my very basic stencil-header stencil.

(Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but the reason the print quality looked so gloppy was because I installed the stencil backward! Word to the wise – the shiny side faces the paper you’re printing on!!)

Anyway, I then attempted to print stencils for more complex things. Apparently too complex?… maybe the font size was too small, or the image resolution too much for the machine to handle? Maybe the humidity was interfering (more on that below)? I wasn’t sure what the issue was, but I was seeing lots of “shredding” on the stencil (more on that below as well). This put me in front of my computer for far more time than I wanted, manipulating text and images to try to get something workable. It didn’t work.

I gave up for a while and mulled over what my next step would be.

The next step ended up unrelated to the general point of this post – the purchasing of some old-style stencils – shipped all the way from Japan. But, before I figured out how I wanted to approach the use of this very limited resource, Mimeomania member Arnø Jürgen van Matendouce kindly shared a print test page drawn by his friend TYST (it’s on the resources page, just scroll down until you see it), and that inspired my next move:

I decided to try the tattoo stencil printer again, to see if I could figure out what the issue was:

And it turned out that those copies weren’t half bad. There was obviously a learning curve – and some sections couldn’t be rendered by the thermal printer at all, but it seemed like I was heading in the right direction. There was no shredding.

I went ahead and made a stencil for the title page of a little booklet I want to put together (part of a collection of some public domain works):

Honestly, this was the best quality print I’d gotten so far. It’s a little fuzzy around the letters’ edges, but it’s a pretty small font size (probably 9 or 10?). I could forgive it (the ghost image you see is just because there’s another page under the one I’ve photographed). A day or two later, I then went ahead and tried to make a stencil for one page in the booklet that really requires decent resolution and the “shredding” reappeared with a vengeance:

In the next image, you can see where the image is clear and sharp and where it simultaneously has shredded sections. It was really teasing me.

At this point, I’m realizing that these multiple failures are asking something of me. It seems I’m really having to be an intrepid and committed experimenter here, and that this isn’t just about whether or not I can duplicate something, it’s about how easy it’s going to be for anyone to do this. And thus far, the results have not been inspiring, to say the least!

But wait, it gets worse.

So, I make my decision. I am in this for the long haul. I want to figure out a way for regular people to engage in DIY, low-tech-if-possible, printing and duplicating. I’m inspired by the print quality Rachel Simone Weil achieves with a label printer, so I resolve to keep trying.

Having learned that a fax machine that uses a thermal printer to print on plain paper (rather than a roll of fax paper) might possibly work for this task, I purchase yet another used fax machine – this time a Brother Intellifax-775:

I quickly figure out that this machine will not work the way stampalofi’s Philips fax machine does. His prints on Risograph paper inserted through the paper feed channel. Nor does it do what psw’s does, which is directly feed the Risograph roll over the thermal printer from inside, as though it were fax paper. Mine requires the print cartridge to remain installed – in effect requiring that the Riso paper be carried through the cartridge. So I spend a good couple of hours, rewinding the cartridge to the beginning (so the machine doesn’t tell me I need to insert a new cartridge), cutting the Risograph thermal paper down to size (because I’m using a roll that would’ve fit in the larger Pitney Bowes feed mechanism but that’s wider than the letter-sized paper this cartridge fits) so that I can feed it onto the cartridge, then, taping and winding it in; finally I’m ready to give it a try.

First, though, because the thermal printer does not have a “mirror” option, like the tattoo stencil printer, I have to get onto my computer and reconfigure my original so that every page is a mirror image of the original, and change the page order so that the print layout is adjusted to accommodate that (it was complicated, you don’t want to know at this point. Just know that it was a little mind-bending). I do that and I run one page through the fax machine.

And my stencil has a fine, fine line right across it that’s not part of the original. I try again, and once or twice more – and they’ve all got the line. I then remove the Riso paper, wind the cartridge back away from the beginning to a section that’s unused, and make a standard copy. It looks like this (copy above, original below):

I’m completely thrilled about the resolution and really stinkin’ mad about the line.

I go at the inner workings of the machine with a microfiber cloth and rubbing alcohol. I test it – still a line. I clean it and wipe it and shine a very bright light inside it to try to ascertain the problem. Nothing looks amiss. I clean it again and fiddle around with the thermal unit’s alignment. It still doesn’t work.

The seller very kindly offers me a refund even though the fax function probably works.

I spend the next few days questioning my sanity. I tell myself that there’s no guarantee that my tinkering will work and I ask, “Do you still want to go ahead with this?” and the answer is still, “Yes.” I find myself daydreaming about finding an electronics nerd who’ll help me build a thermal printer that actually works as well as a (functioning) fax machine but without the hassle and all the extra apparatus.

I can’t fall asleep because I’m wondering how I can make a “printshop in a box” that isn’t reliant on way too many “outsourced” and weak-supply-chain-linked pieces (Hush! I’m not obsessed).

But I’m kind of obsessed. I’m waiting now for my area’s relative humidity to decrease a bit (having heard that the tattoo stencil printers don’t like humidity) – but in the meantime… yes… I’ve bought another fax machine to try (same model since I’m now intimately familiar with it). It’s on its way. It’s supposedly new, so perhaps there’s hope.

By golly, I hope there’s hope.

That’s all I have for today.


your good guinea pig who will keep on trying.

P.S. there’ll be a follow-up post later that’s focused on fax/thermal-printer pitfalls and how to avoid them (if in fact they can be avoided).

For Sale

Please Save this Beautiful Mimeograph Machine

This machine is at risk of being destroyed.

If you live in or near, or are willing to drive to Central Texas, this lovely A. B. Dick “Edison-Dick” No. 77 Model B is in dire need of a new home. It currently resides in a commercial property that’s going on the market and is expected to sell quickly.

The person overseeing the sale reports that the machine was in frequent use until a few years ago when the owners moved on to other technology. The machine is complete and includes an interleaver and a supply of interleaf cards that allow you to print on standard paper without having to manually slipsheet pages between prints (this prevents ink transfer to other copies).

The table and a dust cover are included. There is also a Mimeoscope for stencil-work, accompanying documentation, lettering guides, T-square, and screenplates.

This is a fantastically complete collection – a duplicating shop all in one. To discuss price and logistics, please contact the person overseeing the sale via the original post on facebook. No price listed at this time, reasonable offers entertained. More pictures are included in the original post.

Mimeograph Revival