Retro Tech - Heyer Model 76 Spirit Duplicator

  • Posted on: 3 April 2019
  • By: jlg4880

(The Admin: "One of the things Greer hoped that Green Wizards would do is relearn older technology and skills so that when economic contraction starts making current technology, like computers, microchips and such, too expensive or difficult to get a hold of, that older equipment could then replace it. Technology from the last century, like this "Spirit Duplicator" was not only cheaper to make but also could usually be repaired with simple hand tools and a working knowledge of mechanics. I'd like to thank Green Wizard jlg4880, for taking the time to learn how to use this and for sharing what he learned.")

How many of the current membership is familiar with or have read John Michael Greer’s delightful novel, and dare I say, modern classic Retrotopia?

A good number I should hope. I know my particular copy’s starting to get a wee bit dogeared.

Retrotopia, a novel about a future society that has kicked computer technologies to the curb--a destiny where the vast majority of poorly made, unrepairable computers are more than likely headed--got this particular Green Wizard contributor musing over the possibilities of resurrecting older printing/duplicating technologies.

And that brings us to the good old classic spirit duplicator, a machine that allows the reproduction of documents by typing, handwriting, or even drawing. A master copy was created with just a special paper and a manual typewriter. The by adding fluid and paper, you could turn off as many copies as you needed. Before the advent of photocopiers and computer printers this was “the machine” for every office, church or school. In the coming decades it may well return to prominence as our offices downsize.

Let's get started...


Part 1 - Master Preparation

This particular instance will involve an inexpensive tattoo printer available on eBay along with dedicated thermal masters. Once a master’s been loaded, the document to be copied is loaded into the copying slot with the text/printing facing away from the operator.

Then it’s just a matter of pressing the “COPY” button and allowing the copier to do its business.

Once copying is completed, the spent carbon sheet peeled away and discarded.

The finished master, ready for fixing to the duplicator drum.

And the carbon side of the transfer master, reverse-reading and still attached to the yellow backing sheet.


Part 2: Duplicator Set Up

Once a fresh master has been prepared, which in this instance involved thermal masters utilizing an inexpensive tattoo printer, the duplicator set up can commence.

Before the duplication process can start, the fluid tank needs to be topped off with alcohol, in this case methanol, which was obtained from an eBay seller as the base for radio control/glow plug engine fuel. As methanol is rather nasty and toxic, I may very well try duplicating with 91% isopropyl alcohol

After the spirit tank is filled, paper is loaded into the infeed tray. This is just ordinary 20 pound copier bond.

With paper loaded, the paper feed is lowered in the “engaged” position. The feed assembly has rollers that drive individual sheets in the duplicator below the paper infeed deflector, which also houses the felt wick for dampening.

The feed tension is next set to “medium,” which seems to work reasonably well for copier bond. This model has a settings ranging from “light”, intended for 16 pound paper, all the way up to “heavy” for index/postal card stock. Medium is the usual setting for 20 pound bond

The spirit tank is next rotated into the “on” position, feeding alcohol to the wick.

The spirit flow rate is then set from “medium” to “heavy” in order to prime the wick. Leaving it on “heavy” for the time it takes to load a master onto the duplicator drum seems to allow adequate time for moistening. Once primed, the flow rate control is returned to “medium,” which is where it typically remains during operation.

The recently prepared is master is inserted into the duplicator drum clamp.

And fixed into place. Notice that the Master is a mirror image reversed of the text. With paper loaded, the spirit tank topped off, and the master clamped in place, we’re all ready for actual duplicating.


Part 3: Duplicating

With the duplicator all set up, it’s now time to switch on the power. On this model, the impression control also contains the power switch. Once the lever is rotated into the region for impressions, the power activates.

With the motor running, it’s time to activate the “Print Copy” lever…

And fresh copies start exiting onto the outfeed tray.


Part 4: Final Results

And here are the final results: Our source copy, straight off the Olympia SM9 with little appliqué graphics applied

And the newly produced copies, still damp from duplication process.

Even the images reproduced fairly well, like little purple stamps.

While the final results are by no means perfect, certainly not on par with letterpress or offset printing, the output is certainly useable and legible. I rather thought the spirit duplicated papers that were the bane of my existence in the public school system were better than this, but it could simply be a matter of narrowing down whether it’s the paper (which I doubt), the spirit masters (I have my suspicions), or the wick (a good possibility, as it’s original to the machine and probably in the region of four decades old).

I rather expect this technology, along with the manual typebar typewriter that made the source possible are well worth pursuing and preserving. We may need to do a mad science experiment with some previous Green Wizard materials that might have originally been published using this or possibly by mimeograph, which is another, interest I have in resurrecting.


If you wanna see the whirring, clicking, thrashing, vibrating in action, there’s a video of that!

You can also read the Green Wizard forum thread where we first talked about me getting one of these retro copiers here:

GW Forum Thread - Mimeograph/Spirit Duplication


Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Great job documenting this. Thanks so much. I just discovered through a 'zine the American Amateur Press Association. It's an old organization and looks to be very interesting. I might join myself. All this stuff really has me iching to make a 'zine again. A lot of great resources here:

jlg4880's picture

Sorry for the delayed reply. A mandolin can be a demanding mistress, with trying to get the fretting patterns re-memorized while waiting for the calluses to painful re-establish themselves.

And we're not even gonna get into Gregg Shorthand study/practice.

Next, we need to find a productive use for it in our efforts to launch the "Butlerian Carnival" and make Retrotopia a reality.