The class instructors, Dan and Jake (this is not my photo, btw), started out with the Spirit Duplicator speech. That being: the mimeograph machine is not to be confused with the spirit duplicator, or “ditto machine.” (Here is an interesting article that identifies them as competing technologies, in fact). People over the age of 35 enjoy sharing memories of snorting fresh dittoed copies of grade school math tests, but we’ll have to talk about that another time.
The first step in mimeograph printing is to carefully cut a design onto a mimeograph stencil using a typewriter or stencil cutter. Mimeograph stencils are sort of like carbon copy forms with that thin top layer of paper. Here is someone’s picture of a mimeograph stencil (but even more awesome is the parent site of this link, http://www.vacuumland.org, which is about collecting vintage vacuum machines. But I digress).
The next step is to put ink (LOTS of ink!) on the drum at the center of the machine (assuming the machine is low on ink), and then place your stencil over the drum. (Here is a page from the mimeograph manual they handed out that explains this all in more technical terms.) When it was my turn to produce copies of my stencil, Dan had just inked the drum. You’ll see how this affects the first few copies:
You then set your blank paper into the tray, and start cranking the handle. It’s definitely more fun if you crank it fast; copies will kind of shoot out of the other side. (Is this the origin of the expression “crank it out?” Because you can rack up a lot of copies pretty fast.) Once the ink had settled in, my copies began to look a little cleaner:
Here is the mimeograph in action (complete with paper jam) with Dan and Brandon at the helm:
In addition to Dan’s demonstration of mimeograph by machine, Jake showed us a machine-less method of mimeograph printing that uses hand-held tools (this picture, also not mine, shows the closest approximation that I can find) and small templates that allow you to print on a diverse array of surfaces (I was sporting a mimeographed arm tattoo for the rest of that day, by way of example.). To cut my smaller stencil, I used a typewriter that Jake had brought. It happened to be an Olivetti Lettera 22.
In the comments section of a prior post, several typeospherians scolded me for trashing the Olivetti, based on my underwhelming experiences with the Underwood-Olivetti 319. “Try the Lettera!” they cried, and thus I found myself in the following weeks lurking eBay for this iconic machine with the one red key. Needless to say, I was delighted to encounter one at the IPRC, and told Jake post-haste that I coveted the machine.
“Well then, it must be yours,” he replied. “I got it at a garage sale for 5 bucks.” (I of course foisted my Flip camera videos of Portland’s Ace Typewriter upon him immediately, which he aptly referred to as typewriter pr0n. This led to a discussion between Dan and Jake about their typewriter hoarding issues and the relative sexiness of the Selectric l vs the Selectric ll. You all should have been there to hear it, you really should have).
Thanks to Jake’s generosity, this Lettera 22 has now pushed my typewriter collection into the dreaded double digits. Y’all were right. It’s a darned good machine.