Mimeograph/Spirit Duplication

jlg4880's picture

I'm by no means certain if this topic suggestion would be appropriate for this particular subcategory, or even the forum in general, but has anyone considered the prospect of revitalizing mimeography or spirit duplication to have printing reproduction that would be independent of computer technologies?

I'm currently attempting to locate both a spirit duplicator and a mimeograph since I'd like to see that technology preserved, but I was wondering if anyone has used these machines for newsletters or bulletins.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Hi Jlg4880!

Great topic. It fits perfect in the communication/transportation circle.

I know John Michael Greer has discussed the use and revitilization of mimeograph machines for the use of printing as we head down the stairs of collapse. It's something I'm interested in as well. I think it is a fine endeavor and would be a good way to make 'zines, booklets, texts, newsletters, etc. to pass. I haven't used them myself, but it's on my radar/list for something I'd like to try.

jlg4880's picture

I'm interested in 'em since they wouldn't rely on computers for prep work. I'm also keeping my eye out for the stylii, light tables/boards, lettering templates and other peripherals. And maybe a Selectric II or III for master/stencil production.

I've always got the Olympia SM-9's for master typing, but an electric would give more consistent results.

As an aside, you can use tattoo printers/copies for master prep (of which I've gotten one, since they're not that pricey), so the other equipment isn't absolutely vital to start with, but it would be comforting to not have to rely on electronics at all for "pre-press" prep and final production.

I'd expect there's a mimeo/spirit duplicator just waiting to fall into my clutches somewhere...It's just a matter for tracking one down.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Are you trying to find these locally? I see machines and supplies for both on ebay.
I'm thinking you might put the word out to retired teacher groups. I imagine there are still schools who have these things tucked away in the basement and retired workers might be able to tell you where to find them. Actually, I once had a connection with a school janitor who had put away many books that the school was throwing out. Some people do not like to see good things wasted and will save them for "just in case".

jlg4880's picture

I check Craigslist once a week, but haven't seen any examples pop up. I'm in eastern North Carolina--a 500 mile drive is doable, but not something I'm really enthusiastic about.

I've been keeping an eye on eBay, but the ones I'm currently seeing are suspect condition with prices that make 'em less than appealing, plus, the shipping/handling can almost double the price.

I've seen serviced/reconditioned models on eBay, typically for higher prices, but they've had the manuals, spare parts and supplies so they seem far less risky than the "Don't know what it is, how it works, if it works" listings that are typical.

I've got a long term plan to get both, so it's just a matter of staying patient.

David Trammel's picture

jlg, we're quite new here BUT I'm hoping that over the next year as we expand and get new members, we can reach a point that we can do a few GoFundMe pages for some Green Wizards to experiment with older tech like your mimeograph machine.

In the mean time, why don't you post a "Want Ad" on the Green Wizard Marketplace forum.


That way it stays up in view and maybe you'll get lucky and someone will have one.

jlg4880's picture

I may have stumbled onto a suitable candidate: A Heyer's 76 electrically-operated model that is complete with starter supplies, instructions, original packaging...even a dust cover!

It seemed to have resided in a warehouse for a number of decades, languishing--all but forgotten. There's a bit of rust on one of the parts, but that shouldn't compromise it utility.

This may be ideal. While I still have ambitions to acquire a mimeograph into my greedy clutches, spirit duplication has the benefit of being easier to get up and running with supplies fairly easy to obtain, and with the current supply of spirit duplicator master coupled with a tattoo scanner/printer, it looks like it'll be able to print immediately.

Now, it might just be a matter of finding a suitable subject for printing.

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ClareBroommaker's picture

I'm interested in hearing how you found this spirit duplicator.

jlg4880's picture

Found it on eBay, oddly enough, not long after one of my responses to this forum. I mulled over the idea of whether to get it over the weekend and finally decided to go through with it.

It'll probably take a little over a week to get here in New Bern, NC, and, after figuring out how work it, finding some suitable test subjects/projects for it.

jlg4880's picture

Motor runs and it seems to work. The only item left for a test run is duplicating fluid, which is on order. Should be here Monday, 11 Mar.

Now, for the most un-American of activities to, uhmmmm...Read the Instructions.

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jlg4880's picture

After two plus hours of messing around, trying to figure out why the machine wouldn't feed paper, I finally checked to make sure the paper infeed deflector was seated properly. It might've become dislodged during packing/shipping/unpacking, but it finally yielded with a satisfying ***click!*** and fed properly.

I was able improvise with 91% rubbing alcohol, with a sample I was able to run off the tattoo copier/printer, and it yielded the result in the image below.

Now, to try to get the purple gunk off my my hands/fingers...

Nothing quite like revitalizing obsolete, but still perfectly functional technology to mass-produce the extremely bad poetry of Ewan McTeagle.

(Monty Python aficionados will most readily appreciate to whom I'm referring...)

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Justin Patrick Moore's picture

This is awesome / inspiring. Time to print up some good ole fashioned 'zines, pamphlets, penny dreadfuls, recipes, green wizard tutorials on printing with a spirit duplicator, etc. (Or of course whatever you are into printing!)

jlg4880's picture

Scantily-clad anime would be a first choice, since I've got the tattoo scanner/printer, but that's probably not suitable for the Green Wizards forum.

On a more practical note, I do have a "Training Bulletin No. 19: DUPLICATING" that was typed up from an exercise in a typing instruction manual geared mostly to manual typewriters--another potential Green Wizard topic/addiction/obsession--that I'll be using for a potential top post this upcoming weekend.

If we were to assemble some matter of newsletter/broadside/pamphlet/'zine/whatever, I may start planning to acquire a reconditioned IBM Correcting Selectric II/III for cold typeset copy, since it'll be faster as well making typos/boo-boos easier to correct when they have the unfortunate tendency to occur.

It might be nice to start some form of spirit duplicated publication since it'll:

1. Get practice with spirit duplication for when the time comes that the internet goes the way of the buggy whip.

2. Give the USPS business.

3. A non-electronic format should drive the Empire's minions at the NSA insane, being a non-intercepted communique.

Now, I have to look over the internet to find out what a "penny dreadful" is. I've heard that term before, but I keep coming up blank.

Very cool that you found one and it works! Ahh, the smell of the ditto machine. Takes me back to my elementary school days.

jlg4880's picture

It seems to work well. Astonishing, considering it languished in a warehouse for roughly four decades.

jlg4880's picture

A smallish supply of freehand purple masters arrived from eBay. I only ordered a pack of 25 since I wasn't sure if they'd work. Didn't want a full pack and have a bunch of useless media lying about that served no use.

Turns out, they actually seem to do a far better job that the thermal masters did. The print quality isn't as good as I was hoping, but I'd attribute that to the inconsistent pressure on the manual (one of the reasons why typing classes during the golden reign of manuals typically spanned two years or more).

If there's a possibility of starting up some manner of a newsletter/broadside/leaflets/spam, I may have to see if I can track down, stalk, corner, and ultimately capture an electric typewriter to force into captivity. I'd rather hoped to avoid something that relies on an electric motor, but it may prove the most expedient for master production.

I'll have to try another master with a machine that has a much better typeface, one more suitable--at least, I think--for spirit duplication/mimeography, and see if that yields better results.

I'll leave letterpress for those braver than I; I tried that back during my high school years and simply didn't have the patience for it. Just trying to do a return address on envelopes or a business card was incredibly frustrating and tedious. I can't imagine trying to do a page for a book, let alone an entire tome in that manner.

And...Success! The print quality actually looks far superior to what the thermal masters were delivering, for a much longer print run. I only ran about 50 copies, since I didn't want waste any more paper than needed, but this master looks easily capable of around 200--and I've been told up to 300--legible copies.

The darkness of the type is still somewhat inconsistent, more due to my typing ability on a manual, I believe. The Olympias I have all have a fairly heavy touch. I wonder if a Smith Corona Silent Super would be a suitable choice? Or maybe my original plan of acquiring an IBM Selectric II/III with all the spherical elements.

I might have to try some sample lines on each of the machines in my inventory--save for the script models--to see which typefaces/ribbon combinations will work best with manually produced masters.

A project for this weekend, as we continue the Green Wizardry Rebellion against the Industrial Empire.

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This sure brings back memories! Back in 4th grade my teacher had a friend and myself draw the masters of illustrations for our plant science class handouts. Ahhh... the smell of the fresh moist copies right off the machine!

Could you mimeograph sheet music?

This Rare Vintage Typewriter from the 1950s Lets You Type Sheet Music

"While most composers like to handwrite their sheet music, over the years there have been all types of machines invented to help print music. Perhaps one of the coolest is the Keaton Music Typewriter. First patented in 1936, it definitely doesn’t look like an ordinary typewriter. Robert H. Keaton from San Francisco, California created the machine, which has now become something of a rare collector’s item.

The original patent was for a 14-key typewriter, which was then upgraded to 33 keys in an improved 1953 patent. Marketed in the 1950s and sold for about $255, the machine has a distinct look thanks to its circular keyboard. In creating his design, Keaton was looking to create something that would be able to print characters precisely on a staff and indicate exactly where the next character would be printed to ensure accuracy."

jlg4880's picture

Sure! Handwritten would probably work, although using a template, if you can find one, would probably be a lot better. The staves would be a simple enough matter, just being arrays of straight lines, but the clefs, notes, rests, time signatures, et al would probably benefit from using a template to get consistent results.

I've heard of the music notation typewriters, but they're not all that common. I don't believe I've ever seen one in the wild or in captivity. An eBay search might turn up something, but it'll probably cost a fortune and would probably be in need of repair/servicing.

I wonder if there oughta be a Green Wizard Circle for Entertainment? Music, storytelling, puppet shows, etc. Any many of entertainment that could be done on a resource constricted basis.

David Trammel's picture

A quick search turned up this page


Rather ingenious machine. I assume that the lines were printed to the paper before typing the notes.

For now entertainment should use the Craft Circle I'm thinking, since a being a music teacher or barn singer would share a lot of business sense with a traveling trader or local smith.

I'm pretty sure I must've read this thread when it first went up, but having followed my usual tendency to drift off and forget to come back for a span of time, I forgot this had been mentioned.

I'm guessing, though, that it was percolating in the back of my mind until sometime this month when I was yet again moping over there not being ANY letterpress shops in my vicinity and sort of fretting that getting my own printshop organized was way outside my budget and experience and commitment level and then WHAM! Some sort of wakeup call dialed in and shook me by the mental lapels and nearly hollered in my face: "Get a mimeograph machine, you dingus!"

That led to a massive brainstorm and I am off and running with a huge project in mind and being sketched out to instigate a bit of a revitalization. I'm chasing down leads and contacts for printed materials, seeking out copyright holders, and industry insiders.

It's still in the formative phase and I really can't and shouldn't say more right now (let me build up some momentum), but I'll be back before too long to report on what I've got planned and what I hope to do.

Meanwhile, think good thoughts to all mimeographs (and their kin, hectographs and spirit duplicators) everywhere - they deserve to have their fortunes reversed.

You ***NEED*** this book to tell you all about copyright.
We have a copy ourselves. It's so useful.
You'll learn not just how to copyright what you do but how to search for public domain material, figure out what IS in the public domain, and everything else connected to copyright.

Here's the link: https://store.nolo.com/products/the-copyright-handbook-coha.html

The book is ABSOLUTELY worth the cost. Do NOT buy an older edition. Copyright law changes and you don't want to make mistakes.

The text also lets you do preliminary research on your own so if you need a copyright attorney, you'll know better what you want to do so you can make those billable hours more productive.

What a great idea. I've been chasing down the details of a what-seems-to-be orphaned text, but haven't been sure how to proceed beyond what I found here: https://www.copyright.gov/orphan/reports/orphan-works2015.pdf

Indeed, 2015 is possibly even dated, so thanks for the link to the nolo book.

Copyright law is both clear and convoluted. By that I mean the law is generally clear. For example, Sonny Bono, congresscritter from Palm Beach, CA gave his constituents (the Disney Corporation) the changes in copyright law they demanded. This law affects everyone else. It's all spelled out in all it's weird permutations. It's why we (Peschel Press) can annotate certain Agatha Christie novels because they are in the public domain IN THE U.S. but not in the European Union. We don't sell these books over there.

Here's where it gets interesting, particularly as you stroll up and down craft show booths or pay attention to what you're driving past.

Remember: I am NOT a lawyer. This is based solely on my personal experience.

Copyright has to be enforced. So when you see an obvious representation of Foghorn Leghorn schilling for a bar outside a little town in eastern PA, you can guess that Warner Brothers doesn't know. Disney is very aggressive about enforcing copyright. But they have to know.

Every commercial sewing pattern from McCalls and the like says 'not for commercial use'. Does McCalls send lawyers trolling up and down the aisles of craft shows looking for scrubs made from their patterns? I doubt it. Next time you go to a craft show, check out all those logos and images you recognize and ask yourself if someone is getting paid for their use.

The sports people (colleges and professional) tend to be more aggressive but there's also more money involved.

Things fall out of copyright when no one enforces it. If you can't find the copyright holder, the answer is ... maybe? It all depends.

True story:

Bill used to buy all kinds of comic books when he was in his twenties. One of the lines was an erotic comic called "Cherry Poptart". It lasted exactly two issues before the name was changed to "Cherry". Cherry's mother was renamed "Mrs. P".
Why did this happen? We figure that Kellogg's discovered that a product of theirs, beloved of kids and moms everywhere, was being used for pornographic purposes! They leaped into action the moment they heard about it. They sent out a phalanx of lawyers and the comic book writer changed the name. My point is that Kellogg's enforced their copyright.

A writer's website I like is The Passive Voice (http://www.thepassivevoice.com/ ). It's run by a lawyer whose wife self-publishes. He's interested in copyright. It's worth checking out.

Truly, and I can't imagine anyone's going to ultimately care what I do with anything related to mimeographs because even the companies that made them don't exist anymore!

(Yep, Passive Guy's blog is a great read. I've learned a lot from him and his commentariat)

Ack! I'm using trademark and copyright interchangeably!

They're not the same, although the same points apply:

If trademarks and copyrights are not enforced, they tend to fall into a gray area.
If a company or a writer wants to keep tight hold of their trademarks and copyrights, they must police their usage.
It isn't always easy to locate the trademark or copyright holder. It won't always be who you think it is but that's where you can start.

That is, the Beatles don't own the rights to their own music (unless Paul McCartney got rich enough to buy them back).

Always use your own intellectual property/copyright lawyer.
Read that contract carefully, paying close attention to the rights portion.
If you don't understand, don't sign. Yes, this is also true when paying someone else for the use of their copyright/trademark/intellectual property. Make sure you know exactly what you are permitted to use, when, under what circumstances, for how long, and are there riders if you sell enough of your own books that you have to pay the copyright holder more $$.