Sal Nunkachov, multi-media printmaker from Portugal, created the video below in homage to stencil duplicating. Enjoy this rich, evocative, and immersive film!
Sal Nunkachov, multi-media printmaker from Portugal, created the video below in homage to stencil duplicating. Enjoy this rich, evocative, and immersive film!
Rich Dana, founder of Obsolete Press, MFA candidate at the University of Iowa, and co-instigator of the International Duplicators Guild meetings has put together an exhibition of some of the University of Iowa Library’s holdings along with items from his personal collection that feature hectograph, mimeograph, and spirit duplicating processes. With his kind permission, the majority of the exhibit is presented here. If you’re in the area in July, it’ll be open to in-person viewing.
(Text and photos copyright Rich Dana.)
French symbolist Alfred Jarry was the first to influence both the development of science fiction (SF) and the avant-garde. He wrote time-travel stories alongside his friend H.G. Wells and set the stage for Dada with the production of his revolutionary play, Ubu Roi.
The turn of the century marked a new obsession with technological development. The newly-built Eifel Tower stood as a monument to the modernist ideal, while Thomas Edison introduced the first mimeograph at the World’s Fair.
The Futurist art movement rejected the past in favor of techno-utopianism. Early SF fans like Myrtle Douglas (Morojo) embraced these radical ideas, as reflected in the design of her Esperanto fanzine Guteto (Droplet.) WWII and the rise of technocracy brought much of this idealism to an end.
The avant-garde primarily used duplicators like the hectograph and the mimeograph as a cheap alternative to “better” printing methods like lithography. The true innovators in the use of copiers were an unlikely cohort; science fiction(SF) fandom. Young fans were creating amateur magazines (“fanzines”) imitating the cheaply printed “pulp” magazines like “Amazing Stories” and “Weird Tales.”
The fanzines also featured cover art influenced by the graphic style of the avant-garde. For most fans, litho and letterpress printing were out of reach. For them, copiers like home made hecto gelatin pads were the only option. Hectograph and later “ditto” machines produced the distinctive purple copies using aniline dye inks.
Many fanzine publishers went on to notable careers, while many continued to produce zines for niche audiences.
Damon Knight sold his first sf story when he was a teen. He attended a WPA art program in Oregon and later moved to New York, where he became a successful writer and teacher.
Edythe Eyde aka Tigrina was a Los Angeles SF fanzine creator who went on to produce Vice Versa, America’s first Lesbian publication, under the name Lisa Ben.
James Blish, like Damon Knight was a member of the NYC fan group, The Futurians. In addition to writing SF, Blish wrote ad copy for the American Tobacco Institute. Ironically, he died of lung cancer at 54.
The Russian avant-garde in particular embraced many of the same aesthetic and graphic techniques as the early science fiction fanzine publishers. The use of DIY techniques like hectography and “kitchen” lithography add a crude and spontaneous energy to the Cubo-Futurist imagery.
Russian poets and artists often teamed up to create extremely limited edition pamphlets filled with hand-lettered word-art, printed from hecto jellies using copy-pencils, or plate glass using litho crayons or tallow.
The influence of the avant-garde and their revolutionary use of typography can still be seen across the world of graphic design today.
Marcel Duchamp and other avant-garde artists caused a furor at the 1913 Armory Show in New York, and almost overnight the city became a hotbed experimental artwork. Duchamp and Man Ray would come to represent “New York Dada,” the American contingent of the anti-bourgeois and anti-war Dada movement which started in Zurich.
Dada publications featuring the work of Duchamp and Man Ray took advantage of innovations in cheap printing and duplicating technology and laid the groundwork for countless artist-produced publications to come.
The influence of Dada on graphic design and typography can be seen in SF fanzines of the 1930s, punk rock fanzines of the 1970s and many zines today.
The cross-over between SF fandom, artist books and poetry took place after WWII. Many SF fans returned from the war and attended college, thanks to the G.I. Bill.
The university culture of Wichita, Kansas made it a key stop on the cross-country drives of beats like Allen Ginsberg, who titled a poem after a legend he picked up from the Wichita beatniks.
The legend of Vortex originated with local beatnik poet (and SF fan) Lee “Tellis” Streiff in the pages of his Martian Newsletter.
Unlike other Wichita beat poets and artists, Lee Streiff never escaped the Wichita Vortex, where he taught English and continued to participate in fandom.
The “Summer of Love” marked the end of the beat era and the rise of hippie culture. Fueled by mind-altering drugs and a mash-up of mysticism, psychedelia drew on the utopian dreams and pop-culture aesthetics of science fiction and the lush and biomorphic design style of Art Nouveau.
The “Human Be-in,” held in San Francisco in January of 1967 is considered to be the prelude to The Summer of Love, and the event poster by Stanley Mouse inspired countless designers to push typography past the limits of readability.
An impulse to exoticize eastern cultures can be traced back as far as classical antiquity. Such caricatures can be perceived as ranging from naive to racist, but the exoticism of the psychedelic era contributed to many young, white Americans recognizing cultures other than their own and embracing the cause of global human rights.
Transgressive ideas were embraced by sectors within both the avant-garde and science fiction fandom. Duchamp’s “Fountain” outraged many in the art world. Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, da levy, Ed Sanders, Leroi Jones and Diane DiPrima all faced obscenity charges for their work. As far back as the 1940s, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society was criticized for it’s tolerance of openly homosexual members.
Perhaps no writer embodied the controversial more than William Burroughs. Considered both a beat and a science fiction author, Burroughs work and life transgressed every social norm. Loved by some, hated by many, Burroughs and his work influenced literary SF writers like Kathy Acker and William Gibson.
Hectography uses aniline dye transferred to paper via a pad made of gelatin. “Hecto” was the precursor to the spirit duplicator remembered for its purple text and alcohol smell. Hecto became obsolete after WWII, making the visionary artist Mae Strelkov one of a handful still using hectography in the 1970s.
Mae Strelkov, was born and raised in China, the child of English missionaries. As a teenager she met Vadim Strelkov, They married and were forced to flee to South America to escape the Japanese invasion in 1937.
Living in the mountains of Argentina, Mae became an amateur publisher. She boiled cow bones to produce the gelatin for her hecto pads. trading her zines by mail with other fans around the world.
Nowhere is the intersection of politics and art more obvious than in the realm of publishing. Cheap duplication technology gave voice to those who would otherwise have been silenced by the editors of governments and corporate media.
During WWII, in a conscientious objector work camp in Waldport, Oregon, William Everson published several chapbooks of poetry using the camp’s mimeograph machine. Everson’s “War Elegies” is considered the first publication of “The mimeograph Revolution.”
SF fans also expressed their opinions on the war. On the cover of “The Damn Thing” 20 year-old Bruce Yerke depicts himself and his friend, 22 year-old Ray Bradbury being marched off to a work camp.
Every social justice movement of the 20th century relied on cheap copying technology, coupled with bold (and often crude) graphics to spread their message.
Spirit duplicators, often called ditto machines, used a paper master sheet similar to carbon paper to print up to 40 purple or green copies before the master was depleted.
The mimeograph, or stencil duplicator, also used a paper master sheet, but allowed the user to make more copies in a wide range of colors.
The offset press, used to produce larger runs, is an offshoot of lithography and uses a flexible printing plate. This process is still used on a large scale for newspaper printing.
In the 1980s and 90s, the lines continued to blur between fanzines and fine art. Now using photocopiers instead of mimeo and ditto machines, Dada style collage could mix with the aesthetics of Graffiti and Agit-prop in what now cbecame known as just…zines.
As Alex Wrekk wrote in Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY Zine Resource: a zine is:
“An independently produced publication containing anything you want; personal experiences and stories, political ideologies, music related writing, gardening tips, fiction, travel stories, comics, photography, or anything you like. Zines can be put together by one person or a group of people and they are usually photocopied, but can also be printed offset, letter press, or mimeographed.”
Want more? The University of Iowa Libraries website also contains this 2013 gem, “What the Hectograph?”, with a recipe to make your own hectograph gelatin plate.
1972 Master catalog of mimeo supplies, includes stencils, stationery and postcard blanks, and lettering guides; and operating manuals for the Gestetner 260 and the electronic stencil imager, Model 1120 added to the digital library, here and here, under their respective brand names.
Eight new documents related to the Speed-O-Print line of duplicators are now available here: Digital Collection – service/instruction manuals – Mimeograph Revival (just scroll down to “Speed-O-Print”). One of the documents is related to a photo copier the company made – maybe in the 70s? I can’t imagine there are any of those machines still available, but the manual was part of a collection I received from typewriter and mimeo enthusiast, Theodore Munk. I figure it can’t hurt to include it here, on the off chance it’s useful.
I’m considering adding a page just for videos, maybe under the Resources heading, will be posting about a mimeo-related exhibit that’s on display in Iowa, and am transcribing an interview with Sam Keller. Also, I’m taking the first steps with my Heyer Model 60 and will report back on how the cleaning progresses. Stay tuned!
Free · Online Event · THIS THURSDAY
From the FaceBook post:
“10AM L.A.– 12PM Chicago – 1PM NYC – 6PM London – 7PM Amsterdam– 2AM(Fri.) TokyoZoom Link: // Coming Soon //Greeting again, spirited duplicators and mimeo-heads!After a fantastic response to the first online gathering of copier enthusiasts, we have scheduled a follow-up meeting for June 10, 2020.This time, we want to hear from as many of you as possible! We propose a “pecha kucha” or lightning-round-style meeting. Anyone can give a 3-5 minute presentation about their own work, a duplicator project they like, or give a “scene report” about their home studio, copier art, zines and related activities in your region.To keep things organized, we ask that you submit a video of your slideshow or talk by June 5th, so we can compile them and avoid technical difficulties during the event. Then, participants in the live meeting can share questions and comments in the chat and talk live as time allows. Send your video to email@example.com Sharing through dropbox or another cloud storage service is preferred. Videos over 5 minutes will be rejected!
Do you have questions? Feel free to email us!
See you on 6/10…..
Rich & JS
This live, online forum will serve as part of the ongoing effort to raise awareness of the mimeograph and other pre-digital duplicators and their use in creating zines, prints, posters, chapbooks and other types of art. The name, “Duplicators Guild,” is a playful nod to the confraternal printer’s trade organizations of old, but is not meant to imply any official membership – only a willingness to engage in friendly conversation over our shared interests. We assert that while our cottage industry may be hyper-local, our networked community is increasingly global.
Organizers/Moderators:Rich Dana, Publisher, OBSOLETE! Press & MFA candidate, University of Iowa Center for the Book and JS Makkos, Founder, Intelligent Archives, Doctoral Candidate, Louisiana State University School of Art & Design”
Further signs that the retro-tech renaissance is the future:
Also, if it’s of interest to anyone who’s just popping in, there’s now a subscribe button on the top menu, the use of which allows you to receive notifications of new posts by email.
Little by little I’m getting things set up to function, though there’s still much to be done before I get to that point. Although I didn’t get all the way through the boxes of books, I made room in the garage for a work table. Now I just need a chair and I’ll go sit in there instead of at the computer! That will lead to more getting done in projects department.
In addition to getting my machines to functional status, I’m obtaining the supplies needed to start print jobs.
The main things needed for stencil duplicating are (at the most basic) stencils, ink, a method of paper registration (alignment) and ink delivery, and paper. In my case, which is a few steps beyond the most basic mimeography, my method to assure paper registration and ink delivery includes actual mimeograph machines (truly traditional is similar to screenprinting, with a framed screen/print-making apparatus – see the image below, or Tomoko Kanzaki’s work).
Traditional mimeograph stencils are not currently available to any large degree, so I’m following the “stopgap” method. I call it a stopgap because it’s an option that I suspect is only available to us now* because we have easy access to electricity on demand, digital capabilities, and manufactured products from overseas. This method of duplication requires these supplies: a thermal-stencil printer, thermal-stencil paper, Risograph ink (or equivalent), and copy paper.
One tool being used among mimeograph enthusiasts is the tattoo-stencil printer.
These things seem to be quite common (there are many on ebay right now).
The high-end option is to use a Risograph machine for its master-making capacity only. Risographs are expensive. and it’s likely that if you already have a Riso, you’re probably not going the old-school mimeograph route (unless your Riso’s print function is broken).
The route I’ve decided to take is to use a quality fax machine (one that prints on thermal paper rather than regular copy paper), using Riso thermal paper (aka master). My reasoning is twofold, one aspect of which is founded on hearsay, but on relatively good authority (experienced mimeo folk in the mimeograph facebook groups): Riso masters make higher resolution stencils than tattoo-stencil paper. The other reason I’m trying the fax-machine route, though, is because I was able to find a machine that can work with three paper sizes (A4, which is 8.27″ wide; US letter and legal size, which is 8.5″ wide; and B4, which is 10.5″ wide) and that was still-in-the-box new (it’s been waiting for its chance to shine since ~1988) for the same price as the tattoo-stencil printers (though without the benefit of free shipping from China -eyeroll-).
Riso master rolls only come in A4 and B4 sizes. A4 is the standard paper size in most of the world and at 8.27 inches wide, it’s narrower than US paper. Given the need for margins on most documents, A4 will likely be wide enough for most of my print jobs. B4 paper (on which to print) is nowhere to be found here, so I’m unlikely to need B4 stencils in general, but if I were to ever get a Gestetner duplicator, that’s the size of stencil I’d want to use. I figured it would be a good idea to plan for the possibility of someday working with a Gestetner, thus my decision took this into account. Alternatively, since B4 is 10.5 inches wide, I might actually use less of the Riso master if I use a B4 roll and print my stencils sideways (trimming off the top and bottom margins of my original as necessary), particularly for my not-quite-letter-size projects. That’ll require some experimentation as there needs to be a little bit of extra length to attach the header.
It really doesn’t matter which way I print my stencils on the thermal paper relative to the way the roll unwinds – I’ll be cutting them from the roll and attaching each stencil to a header that fits my mimeograph. This header, made of heavier paper or light cardstock, will have the holes required to secure the stencil to the machine, and will give me a place to record what the stencil is.
The photo above shows a blank stencil ready for printing in a thermal printer. This one is a “Kelsom stencil.” As I don’t have a Riso master to compare it to yet, I can’t report on that; however here’s what Kelsom-stencil paper looks like.
It’s a very thin, nearly transparent, sheet of nonwoven fibers bearing a resemblance to a very light washi paper. The reverse side is coated with plastic and appears glossy.
When I get the Riso master roll, I’ll compare the two stencil types in a separate post, and in part two of this series, I’ll be talking about either paper or ink.
*By “available to us now” I mean during the next 20-50 years. I may be idealistic here, though some will accuse me of being pessimistic.
May 24, 2021: I’ve reorganized the digital library so that all entries are now categorized by manufacturer name, then by date in which they were added to Mimeograph Revival (newest at the top). This should make it easier to find what you’re looking for. I just uploaded information on the Copy-Rite and Rex-O-Graph brands of spirit duplicator – mostly to the manuals section, but one Rex-O-Graph catalog is in the advertisements and catalogs section.
May 20, 2021: The A. B. Dick Standard Service Book of Instruction has been added to the Service & Instruction Manuals section.
May 14, 2021: A new Personal Narratives section has been added to the library. I have one story lined up and am looking for more. Five new pieces have been added to the Advertisements & Catalogs section.
May 06, 2021: Instructions accompanying the Heyer Model 60 Postcard Printer included in the digital library, Service & Instruction Manuals section. A few links added to that section.
May 03, 2021: The “Wizard of Menlo Park” advertisement and Heyer Catalog 64B (from 1964) uploaded to the digital library, Advertisements & Catalogs section.
April 29, 2021: I’ve created new subsections under the digital Mimeograph Library menu-heading, one of which is Images. New line drawings of a variety of A. B. Dick mimeograph machines have been added to that page.
Overheard on one of the mimeograph fb pages: As new models of Gestetners were rolled out and people brought in their old machines for a trade-in deal, the Gestetner dealers would destroy the inner workings of the old machines that they were no longer supporting as a way to avoid repairing them or answering repair questions down the line.
There you have it folks, the intentional destruction of functional machines for “economic” purposes, because, you know, “progress.”
I’ve been chasing mimeograph-related documents and information for a few months — not long in the scheme of things compared to those who’ve been at it for years, if not decades. Now and then something new turns up in my searches which are, of necessity, mostly online. There are one or two books available (I’ll post what I’ve found, shortly), a variety of scanned images ranging from advertisements to catalogs (as you can see by what I’ve included in the library already), some old auction posts about sales long-past, and a steady stream of things popping up on ebay.
There seemed to be only one Facebook group dedicated to mimeographs (the Mimeograph Users Group is a bit sleepy, but it’s worth looking at old posts to see what its members have been up to); only just today, though, in spite of a good portion of my Facebook searches relating to mimeographs and duplicators, I found another, Mimeomania. I’m not super impressed with the Facebook algorithms that only finally revealed this to me after a couple of months – but then, I’m not super impressed with Facebook in general, so nothing’s changed.
I had this moment of self-doubt upon finding the Mimeomania group – which probably speaks less to any issue with that group and more to my own issues and to this weird, re-inventing the wheel, fool’s-errand thing I’m doing here.
What am I doing? I like to think it’s nothing nearly as opportunistic as “get copies of all the things the collectors have collected and put them online” – but that’s kind of what it is. I like to think this will be useful to someone somewhere and somewhen – but maybe the only (few) people interested are finding all their answers in Facebook groups and those who don’t, give up on mimeograph machines in the end because they’re not easy anymore.
But then I think about why they’re not easy. And yes, this is coming from someone who’s not even yet tried one and no, I don’t mean it’s not easy to turn a crank handle, I mean there’s a massive, mountain-sized set of dilemmas right smack in any path that could convey mimeographs out of the past and into the present, let alone into the future.
Everyone who wants to use a mimeograph is half reliant on a past we can’t get back (those machines and their supplies were made in an era when they could be made; we don’t live in that era) and half reliant on a present that can’t see its way forward (the “old-timers” have valuable skills and information and those bits and bobs get parsed out individually, on a one-on-one basis, but then what?). What I mean by “the present can’t see its way forward” is that this dilemma-mountain casts a huge shadow (in addition to being, you know, really a challenging climb) so that we’re in the dark and trying to look beyond into a more deeply shadowed land. I’ve scrolled back through the Facebook groups’ messages and every newcomer asks the same questions: “How can I find the manual for this machine?” “What kind of ink should I use? How do I thin it?” “Where do I get inkpads?” and “What about stencils?” – the answers range from “they don’t exist,” or “I’ve heard so-and-so has a copy”, to “nobody makes them anymore” and “here’s how I’ve improvised.”
There are plucky explorers who go off-trail and try to contact once-known suppliers in India or China, or who send samples of materials to potential manufacturers, or who are messing around with chemicals in their garages. There are no encouraging reports coming back. There are the well-provisioned who are using up the last of the new-old-stock they bought 15 years ago, but after that, then what? Or there are those who have repurposed some sort of device (here I’m thinking of the thermal-stencil printer – a made-in-China electronic device) with its own series of weak links that at least can carry us further than our previous weak links could.
I’m not actually sure how helpful Mimeograph Revival is going to be if we don’t figure out how to manufacture — and not just manufacture, but teach each other how to manufacture — the critical components.
This makes me think that although mimeograph design “evolved” over the era in which they were in use, we can no longer kit-out the later-generation machines without recourse to digital/electronic inputs (not to mention energy intensive industrial manufacturing methods). Maybe that’s the true shadow that’s cast over the future. And maybe (though I can’t yet prove it) the way to get beyond that is to bypass the mountain and its requirements completely by going back to mimeographs’ beginnings – to Edison and Gestetner in the early days, and to what was being done before there were factories to do it.
I’ve seen a few references to DIY mimeograph machines and I’m trying to chase those references back to their sources so I can post them here. I’ll of course announce it if I do find such a thing, but in the meantime, I’ll be reading up on some Mimeograph history and reporting back on what I find.
By the way, if you’re here and you’re looking for something in particular, consider leaving a comment to tell me whether or not you found it so I can make Mimeograph Revival more helpful.
June 10, 20201: 10AM L.A.– 12PM Chicago – 1PM NYC – 6PM London – 7PM Amsterdam– 2AM(Fri.) Tokyo
Find the details at bit.ly/duplicatorsguild.