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.

38 Replies to “Roneo Machines”

  1. Suddenly thought of this while lounging around on a public holiday over here. I haven’t thought of the term in close to twenty years, but thought I’d Google up what a Roneo machine actually looked like.

    Forget this being 70s tech 🙂 We used to have all our exam papers in Sri Lanka’s largest public school (10,000+ kids in all from grades 1 through 13) done up on Roneo machines at least up to when I left back in 2003. I wouldn’t be surprised if they may still be using these if it’s cheaper than a photocopy/ Xerox and the machines are serviceable with stencil paper still available.

    And you’re right. The Roneo prints definitely had a unique smell to them.

    Thanks for posting this. Very interesting.

  2. I worked at the Roneo research labs at Romford in the late 1970s as the ink research chemist. The inks were based on turkey red oil which is a derivative of castor oil. The site is now Tesco’s petrol station. Best regards to all.

  3. I worked for Roneo Office Equipment Ltd in Auckland, New Zealand during the 1960’s in their duplicating department. I worked with the electric duplicators and addressograph machines. We also had a double-cap machine for large paper. We had typewriters that had inter changeable type faces which we used for things like wine lists etc. We also did menus for several Auckland hotels, including the one the Beatles stayed in on their visit to Auckland. I enjoyed working there but alas it no longer exists. They built the Sky Tower where Roneo once stood.

  4. I am in the US and just looked up the name after it was mentioned on SWMBO’s new favorite show, “CALL THE MIDWIFE”. We guessed it had to be a mimeograph machine. The wiki entry on the machines was a great read. From there I stumbled onto this site.

    I wish I had found out about these and Xerox Copiers back when I was in High School. A good technician I gather made a good buck. And always traveling had to be better then being an office chimp, which I did for many years.

    But time is a one way flow, and the only exit to the time line is final, no reboots.

    Still, I remember the smell of newly minted copies as we were all smelling them, we were told it was toxic and deadly.

  5. I was an export sales representative for Roneo in 1966, trained in sales by Ron Berman and first sales patch was out of the Kingsway showroom. My esport sales region was Latin America, from Chile to Mexico, as well as the Caribbean. I moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1968 to join Roneo’s Brazilian distributor. We had great battles with A.B. Dick, an American single drum duplicator, as well as Gestetner, Rex Rotary, Geha and Roto. We increased Roneo sales 500% in four years. The 865 was our star machine, but we also sold the smaller 350 (electric) and the 250 (portable, manual), as well as the Roneotronic electronic stencil cutter. One of these was installed in the Army Officer Training School. A Roneo 865 was installed in the office of the President of the Brazilian Post Office. Quick change colour printing, using different colour drums and accurate registration, was a key selling point. We also had a number of 865 machines in the print room of the INPS (Institute of Social Security), a very big Government department. My best to the great export team at Roneo Croydon in the 60’s, including Arthur McCutcheon.

  6. Hello,
    I’m looking for some information please on these machines. I read that they were mostly used by schools. I am researching a project based in London 1977. Would anyone know if these machines would have been still in use by offices at that time ( 1977 ) i.e. print out payroll notices etc or by then would most businesses have moved on to the photocopier? Thank you

    1. Hello, I worked for Roneo, (later Roneo Vickers). I still have a couple of machines including a No.2, and an 865 with cabinet. I have a large quantity of Black ink plus lots of spare parts.

    2. Hi Sinead, We had one at our school in the UK in 1982. We always wanted to be the one picked to turn the handle

    3. Hi Sinead,
      I started work in Kensington in 1969. And I worked at the London Borough of Barking ( not then Barking and Dagenham ) 1975 to 1980. Both placed used these machines to produce Engineering Specifications. Each copy could be more than 100 pages.
      As a junior engineer, I would quite often spend time rotating the handle to produce a copy. Not trusted with the stencil, I would have to get the typist to change each when I was finished. We always produced extra copies of each stencil, as it was almost impossible to them a second time, as they would split.
      We used to call them Gestetner – but that may have been a generic name.

    4. I started my first job with Grand Metropolitan Hotels plc (a large FTSE 100 Co, now Diageo) on 1st Jan 1976 in their HQ’s just off Oxford/Bond St. at Stratford Place. My actual office was around the corner in Mandeville Place a building part of the Mandeville Hotel. It was the Internal Audit Dept. Our audit reports had to be circulated to lots of people so were often typed up on stencils & Roneo’ed. It was a pig of a job typing on an electric typewriter if you made a mistake. We didn’t have a secretary so had to do typing & Roneo’ing ourselves. At some time perhaps end 1976, more likely 1977, H.O in Stratford Place got a photocopier but the key to the machine had to be got from a senior secretary & one had to show what was to be copied.

  7. I repaired Roneo mimeograph, spirit duplicators (ditto machines) and stencil cutters into the late 80s when they tried to reinvent them as ink duplicators making them as automatic as possible with built in thermal stencils with auto ejectors.
    I miss working on the mechanics. Not so much the ink spills.

  8. Hi, I was a service engineering for Roneo in the early 70s and worked out of the Kingsway, Holborn office, servicing machines in central London area. I have mostly fond memories of servicing and repairing the 750 and 865 machines apart from the dreaded ink floods. It wásn’t so bad if the client caused the ink floods, because we could send it into the workshop to be cleaned up, but if it was the service engineer that did while changing the ink pad we were expected to clean it up on site ourselves. You always knew you were having a bad day if you accidentally flooded a machine!

  9. Nobody mentions the trials of the typist. When you’d cut your stencil, you’d have to go over the typeface or daisywheel of your typewriter to clear out the wax remnants. Otherwise your beautifully typed page had the g’s, a’s, o’s and e’s filled in. Another thing about the copied pages: if you’d been typing papers for a meeting, you had to lay them out, a group per page, around a long table, put on a rubber thumb, and sprint round and round the table gathering single pages into a set, which you then stapled with a long stapler. If it was urgent, it was all hands to the pump, and you might have three or four girls running round the table. And if a magazine article was to be copied for information, you had to type it out, then read it back to someone who error-checked it for you. We worked. But there was still plenty of time for pleasant chats with the Office Boys whose job was to deliver stuff from other floors. Our typing pool was high up on the sixth floor, with a good view over the shot tower and Dudley Flats to Fishermen’s Bend. Anyone else remember Melbourne?

  10. On the first picture my Gestetner 180B is showed after refurbishing. This is an A3 version with enlarged printingsurface to print papersizes of 46 x 50 cm !
    Found this machine in Belgium and is now part of the Gestetner museum collection here in the Netherlands…. Another treasure I found in France, the famous Roneo 750 with a stand.

    Best wishes, Erwin Blok, “King of Gestetner”, the Netherlands.

  11. In the early 1960s I worked at the Ford Motor Company at Dagenham in the Typists Training School. We used to use a duplicating process using purple “ink”. I seem to remember this as an Ormig (?) can anyone tell me if this is right.

    1. You were using A SPIRIT MACHINE, These were predominately used in schools, you could produce short runs. They became the main product for Banda, who didn’t enter the ink market,

  12. Hi, I have a Roneo 475 – Stencil Duplicating Machine and I need to part with it. Does it have any value? Could I sell it? Any help would be much appreciated. Regards, Jo

  13. Remember using these in primary school .. loved the smell .. will always remember that smell .. this was the light blue copying .. I think the spirit duplicator .. I would love to just have a whiff of whatever that stuff was again .. it would take me back for sure

  14. Curious as to the origin of the photograph with the teacher attending to the Roneo machine. Is it just me, or does he look like every English teacher I had in mid-seventies high school?

    1. Yes, he looks like every English teacher I had in the mid-seventies of high school also. Note the cigarette in the mouth, that look was familiar.

  15. What a pity there can be no communication because there are a lot of half truths and confusion in some of these articles.
    I worked for Roneo Vickers from 1970 to 1977 at the Sheffield branch,(all the guys I worked with were so proud to be consistently out performing the Leeds branch and the branches in the South).
    I worked as a Service Engineer thro’ different positions to Senior Machine Salesman.
    With regard to Charlotte’s enquiry about the 250.
    Good luck because the only way to clean a 250 cylinder is to immerse the whole machine in a bath of spirit based cleaning fluid,and as for the ink pad,well,it is 40 years since that particular portable,manual only machine was made.I have some ideas that may help,but contact ??
    Sincerely,
    Tony the Roneo Bear.(Still proudly my nickname!)

  16. Roneo machines used a linseed oil based ink which was contained inside a perforated drum which had a pad wrapped around it with the wax stencil ontop of the pad. Gestetner machines used a glycerine based ink which was forced onto the surface of two metal drums which had a silk belt with the stencil on it running over them. The Roneo would run all day without adding ink but the Gestetner had to inject a squirt of ink every two or three revolutions.

  17. 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?

    1. The 250 was the baby of the RONEO Range, The stencil cutter was not laser, but used an arcing process, the wax stencil was replaced with a carbon based stencil, (still made from tissue paper). Laser technology wasn’t around in those days, if want any spares or ink please advise.

  18. 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.

    1. I have a Roneo No. 2 a very early machine. If you would like a photo or the machine itself please make contact. I worked in the Devon & Cornwall areas from1965 until 1977. There was good comradery, Mr. Porter was a different story, I witnessed his demise in Manchester.

  19. 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?

      1. I was in sales with Gestetner in 1959 – and later became a Roneo dealer. When Roneo ceased production of duplicators in the 1980’s they began to market Roneo-Alcatel stencil duplicators and Scanprinters. The latter being a duplicator and stencil maker all in one, Gestetner versions and others were called digital duplicators or copy-printers if that helps. Brian Phillips.

        1. Thanks Brian. I only had a few clients with these machines but they were a lithographic offset machine. Although somewhat automated in operation they still required a moderate amount of skill to obtain a decent result and operators didnt like the clean up that was required at the end of every job to avoid ink drying out.Regards Stephen

          1. I have work as a engineer. In Holland For roneo vickers and Alcatel i have also work on Ricoh offset machines for Many years .later the stencil machin became copyprinters like sp9000

      2. I worked as a compositor at the Roneo manufacturing plant in Romford Essex England from 1967 until 1978 and remember this machine being tested in the litho department by skilled litho machine minders. You are correct in believing that this machine was ‘bought in’ and rebadged but for the moment I cannot remember the manufacturer – German I think. I remember it being all shiny white with black knobs and a skilled litho minder bemoaning its limitations!

      3. The RV 2000 was the name of the offset machine, which utilised a mono knob control, as with offset process the damping ink etc had to be applied in the correct sequence, by using a single knob everything happened in the correct mode

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