“Keep A Copy”

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Returning to the more pleasant topic of things that have disappeared from common use, I remember carbon paper. It is difficult to remember back before Xerox machines or the ability to save, store and print documents at will. The only way you could make a copy of something was to insert a piece of carbon paper between your first piece of paper and the second piece. Then you had to carefully keep everything together as you threaded the trio into your typewriter. When you struck the typewriter key with enough force, the carbon paper transferred a bit of black ink to the underneath sheet while the top sheet got the ink from the inked ribbon.

If this sounds tedious, it was. However, it was a vast improvement over the century before. If you have read Melville’s story “Bartleby the Scrivener,” you will know that lawyers and other paper heavy professions hired men(not women)to hand copy each document that needed to be duplicated. This was the tradition that had come down through centuries. While printing presses allowed multiple copies to be made of books–a vast improvement over hand copying each book–it was of no use for making one copy of a will or deed.

Carbon paper was as messy as it sounds. It also was of no use in correcting errors. Even if you could use White-Out to correct errors on the original page, you had to repeat the correction on the carbon copy. Now I guess it is a novelty item. It is still for sale I learned when reading about it. But in my college days it was a necessity. A dirty necessity, but needed nonetheless.

18 thoughts on ““Keep A Copy”

  1. I remember it well. I think there is something reassuring about the physical permanence of the carbon copy which also keeps what we might wish to forget. It is one of the reasons I like a paper diary, on a digital diary it is too easy to rewrute the past

  2. Carbon copy, is like holding the past in your hands. Making the world stand still for a moment, while you gaze at the actual physical remnants of someones thoughts and energy transferred to that medium. The electronic age makes it easier, but really removes the personal tough given to old items like the copies of old test pages, reports, letters.

  3. I was taught to type on an electronic typewriter and we used carbon paper. If you made a mistake you had to painstakingly tipex it out on both pages and manually correct. Horrible. That was in 1990.

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