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.

20 Replies to “Roneo Machines”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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 ??
    Tony the Roneo Bear.(Still proudly my nickname!)

  10. 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.

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

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