Saturday, March 27, 2021

What's Old Is New (to Me)

There was another item in that envelope of valentines I wrote about yesterday. It raised my eyebrows more than the valentines themselves, because I didn't know such a thing existed: a multi-colored ditto!

Like all U.S. baby boomers, I grew up with dittos and mimeos at school, before photocopiers became cheap enough to use everywhere. In my experience, dittos (which is the most common brand name for spirit duplicators) were all purple. They had a certain smell from the alcohol used to dissolve the waxy substance that became the printing.

I just learned from that linked Wikipedia page that the color I associate with dittos is called aniline purple, and that the spirits were at first half methanol and half isopropanol. (Starting around 1940, a less flammable mix was introduced — important for anyone who wanted to run an electric duplicator.) I also learned that the copies can fade completely within a month when exposed to sunlight, so they're not a great choice for anything you want to keep.

It never occurred to me that there were other colors than purple, but I guess the blue, red/pink, and black were pretty common. They just weren't in use where I come from, which was not the rich part of the U.S. Our school was using ditto machines for a reason: because they were cheap.

I think the last time I used one was in creative writing classes in college, maybe my sophomore year (so probably about 1979), to make copies of whatever I was sharing with classmates when it was my turn. 

Mimeographs lasted longer, both as a technology and as copies. And they had electrostencils: what an innovation that was. (They lack their own Wikipedia page, though they are mentioned on the one for mimeographs. And yes... burning an electrostencil emitted ozone, I could have guessed that.)

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