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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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The Multigraphers: 1923

The Multigraphers: 1923

Washington, D.C., circa 1923. "Multigraph, Eastern High School." Reproduction 101. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

On Shorpy:
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Cutting a stencil

At the risk of being a bore (although that never stopped me before), I remember that in high school in the mid-1950s, the business course students were the ones who were given the job of cutting stencils for all the mimeograph notices. The stencil was a heavy, two piece sheet of special paper, one of which was like a thick carbon paper and one a sheet of tissue. The notice was typed onto the carbon substance sheet with a MANUAL typewriter and the harder the typist struck the keys, the sharper the print would turn out when copied, due to the carbon being removed and the ink coming through darker. I was a business student full of anger, hostility and pent-up frustration, so I typed very hard and was usually asked to "cut the stencils."

Sorting out the office duplicators:

Check out this link to sort out the various office/school copiers.

In short, the Multigraph was an early bulk mailing tool that functioned as a specialized printing press. It used type that replicated that of a typewriter and the ink was supplied by a ribbon. All this was to give the mass reproduced form letter the appearance of a hand typed letter. Address and addressee names would later be added by hand with a typewriter.

Mimeograph machines were quite different. They worked by a method, similar to silk-screen printing, where ink was forced through a perforated wax stencil.

Spirit duplicators (e.g. the Ditto brand devices) worked by leaching the ink from the original and moving it to a transfer medium (often gelatin) and then transferring some of it to the copy. This limited the copy run to 50-100 copies. The "spirit" used as a solvent for the ink gives these copies their distinctive smell (which triggers a "oh no, another pop test" response in me).


We were told by our High School Chemistry teacher that most of the smell from the purple-colored ink was from methyl alcohol (or some other methyl compound - aromatic hydrocarbons).

If one has ever used the smelly correction fluid while cutting gelatin stencils with a typewriter it's not as near as pleasant!

Wet off the press

And still aromatic handouts the teachers passed out at the last minute.

The Ditto aroma

I remember that unique aroma, too. My grandmother's church had a mimeograph machine that I helped with sometimes as a kid. Now that you mention it, I don't believe I ever detected that same school handout aroma when we were printing up church bulletins. I also seem to recall the phrase "ditto machine," so I guess that's what they used in school, but I have no idea what one looked like or how it worked. Memory just about fails me here.

Ditto smell

Rant Warning: That distinctive, nostalgia-inducing aroma wafting up from the surface of purple-text school handouts came from the output of a spirit copier, usually referred to as a ditto machine. Copies made by mimeograph did not have this delightful bouquet.

Not what he bargained for.

"Gee Martha, this isn't exactly the type of reproduction I had in mind when I signed up for this class"

Just my luck

SHE gets the ashtray.

Remember the smell?

Is a Multigraph a purple mimeograph machine? We still had those when I started teaching in 1976 along with our state of the art Thermofax machines, which faintly printed wax-paper-like copies. Good technology for the times I guess, but just wouldn't cut it now.

Multigraph in the garage

I grew up with a Multigraph (later model) in my garage. My dad was a printer and bought it used in the early 1960s. I remember that the type had to be set on the drum and that it used a wide ribbon to ink the type as the paper was fed through - very similar to a manual typewriter, but a line at a time. Dad never started the print shop he bought his printing equipment for, so we sold it off cheap when he passed away. In function, the Multigraph was replaced by the Mimeograph. It looks like the lady on the right of this photo is inking the ribbon, but we didn't have a fixture for inking the ribbon, so I'm just guessing here. Thanks for all of the Shorpy photos that are being posted. They're great!

Ditto that

Kids today don't know the origin of that saying. Is there anyone that didn't like the smell of a fresh ditto?

Brown sugar

Does anyone know what is in that pan on the right side of the photo? I think it may be a sponge, although at first glance it looks like some unpacked brown sugar.

I think those are mimeograph machines, or something of the sort. I hope someone here is well versed on reproduction machines and will add some information about these two machines.

Quite Handy

The Multigraph was invented in 1902 and parts were sold for it until 1965. It was an extremely popular small office printer.

Having said that, I must also say that these two multigraph kids are devastatingly cool.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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