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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Printing at the Office - Past Tense

Dad's Early Mimeograph Machine
We have in our living room the mimeograph machine handed down to me by my father.  He was a preacher and with mother’s help prepared the church bulletin for the Sunday services.  In later years he used more modern mimeograph machines, but they were still messy because of the inking process that required painting ink on the inside of the drum.  This made it impossible to ink the absorbent cloth inner lining without getting gooey black ink on your hands.  Another challenge the machines offered involved paper feeding.  Typically, the top sheet of the stack had to be lifted up by hand and pressure applied to the rest of the stack so that only one sheet fed at a time.  Mother often helped type the stencil using a manual typewriter.  Correction fluid came in small bottles that mother used to paint over any mistyping and then, when dry, type the word again.  The stencil was a blue somewhat oily to the touch product that let ink pass through to the printed paper wherever cuts had been made thorough the stencil using a typewriter or stylus.  There was a setting on the typewriter that disabled the normal lifting of the typewriter ribbon, thus the keys struck the stencil head on and could cut it.  Sometimes they struck too hard, and letters such as “o”s would remove a piece of stencil entirely and cause the letter to be completely filled in with ink when printed.  Dad would use a hand stylus to etch simple graphics.  To use the stylus to trace a figure, dad used a wooden device with a panel of glass installed over an incandescent light.  Tinfoil lined the bottom of the contraption and served as a reflector.  This allowed dad to trace and etch an image on the stencil when the light shown through.  A final challenge came after the stencil was prepared—affixing the flimsy stencil to the mimeograph drum without wrinkling it and getting a less than smooth coverage of the drum.  If it became wrinkled, then it would cause meandering unwanted ink lines to appear on the printed page or distort the characters themselves.  The whole process came with an industrial aroma.  The ink had a characteristic smell as did the stencil itself as well as the correction fluid.  When I occasionally helped “do the bulletins” I felt fortunate to engage in somewhat dirty and challenging industrial work. 

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