Roneo Machines

Once a must-have apparatus for every school/office where document reproduction was required, the Roneo machine has now become obsolete technology.
The Rotary Neostyle duplicator was one of the best-selling machines of its type and its name later become a generic term for the devices. I do remember a similar machine called a “Gestetner” they both were good at getting ink all over your hands.
Younger generations might not be familiar with the device and most likely have not even heard of it. But for us older generations, the Roneo machine provided copying technology as photocopiers were yet to be invented.

Stencil duplication was a low-cost printing method that worked by forcing ink through waxed-paper stencils on to target paper.

Who could forget the purple ink that rubbed off on your hands, the copies had a smell that was recognised by any 1960-70’s school kid.

The machine was suitable for reproducing a small number of documents such as school worksheets or exam papers or community newsletters.

Every large and medium-sized school would have a “Roneo room” which was a prohibited zone for students as it was where exam papers were produced.

Teachers would prepared masters by typing or drawing on stencil papers and bring the master documents to Roneo room.

The stencil papers would be wrapped around the drum of the machine, which forced ink out through cut marks on the stencil. You could be asked to turn the handle which was fun at first but after a few minutes became a bore.

The duplication quality varied, especially when used to reproduce a large number of documents.

Students found some letters or words unreadable because the stencil paper had torn, causing black ink to seep through the hole and create black spots on the paper.

This was why exam instructors would ask students to carefully check the exam paper before they started the test to make sure that every word and sentence was readable.

4 Replies to “Roneo Machines”

  1. Hi. Great article. I just found a roneo 250 on ebay. In the process of doing it up. David would love some advice on things like replacing the felt and cleaning the ink drum. sadly I have never seen one in action. Nor a spirit duplicator.. also regarding the stencil maker. Would the same effect be acheived with a lasercutter?

  2. I would be grateful fo rpermission to reproduce the first picture of a Roneo on this page in an article I am writing for “Antenna”, the house journal of the Royal Entomological Society, on doing a PhD before computers.

  3. Hi Sue, A very interesting article on Roneo Duplicators. I was a service engineer for Roneo Vickers in the 1970’s and worked on these machines on a daily basis, based at Roneos Norwich office. The purple ink and smell you mentioned, was actually that of a “spirit duplicator” which was a different process to the Roneo (and Gestetner) Spirit duplicators were only used for very short runs, and as you said, the more copies you did, the fainter they got! The other two systems had ink inside the drum, which was constantly fed through tiny holes to a felt blanket beneath the stencil, thus giving constant copy quality from the first copy to the last. It was not unusual to do runs of several hundred copies. The later machines were electric, so no more standing there turning the handle, which was a blessing. The photo with the man in it, appears to show a Roneo Model 865 which was electric, and one of the white knobs was the speed control. A duplicator in full flow was actually much faster than photocopiers at the time. Another useful piece of equipment that most school print rooms had, was a “stencil cutter” This was used for creating stencils from drawings or pictures. The machine had two drums, on one cylinder would be attached the original for example a map, and on the other a black carbon stencil. The machine would be started with both drums spinning at a fast speed. A sensor would scan the original moving across similar to the old Edison cylinder gramophone, and the differences between light and dark would be converted in to an electric spark which would jump across a small gap to the surface of the carbon stencil on the second drum, thus burning through it to allow the ink to come through. The darker the original print, the deeper the burn and therefore more ink for that portion of the stencil. Once done, the stencil would be used the same as a typed one. Used stencil could be re-used if carefully removed from the drum, and they were stored in a stencil cabinet which had clips and a hanging rail. Similar to hanging your washing up to dry! Stencils could be corrected using “stencil correction fluid” which was very similar to Tippex if you made a mistake whilst typing it.
    In later years I myself moved on to being a Photocopier service engineer, and spent the rest of my working life doing that. I often look back with affection at those early Roneo Duplicators and marvel at the later technology of the digital monsters I worked on in later years which were capable of producing hundreds of copies a minute in full colour, as well as stapling, binding and making booklets.
    I hope you found my comments interesting, and thanks again…..David

    1. Hi Davis. I was a supply salesman with Roneo until I emigrated to Australia in 1974 and remember the 865 fondly and the push button 870 not so fondly. I was recently trying to find some info on the single knob offset duplicator which we marketed about that time. I have a feeling it was made by some other company but was rebadged Roneo as was the Remington electrostatic roll fed copier. Do you possibly have any more knowledge about the offset machine?

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