Nostalgia: Exposure to the brave new world of photocopying

Malcolm Wheatman, of Kendal, recalls the arrival in the 1950s of the area’s first photocopier.

Photocopiers seem an unlikely nostalgia subject, but where I worked in Kendal printers Atkinson & Pollitt,we felt privileged to have the first one in town (or so we were told).

Cumbersome boxes arrived amid great anticipation. Only the more senior staff would be allowed to operate it. We felt as if we were joining the burgeoning world of the technocrat.

It was like a large upright process camera with two separate floodlights to illuminate the page to be copied, all held in a vertical frame.

We would learn that the image was focused on to a plate-camera-like screen when a magnetised plate assembly with a slide protecting it from daylight was placed behind the lens.

After exposure, the assembly was transferred to the ‘developing’ device.

The ‘developer’ was a tray with thousands of microscopic glass beads covered in a fine black powder and was rocked back and forth until the magnetised image was covered by the powder.

Some dexterity was needed to place and remove the sheet of paper with the powder image intact. It was then put into a slot which permanently fixed the image – the whole process taking more than five minutes per copy.

The boffins who arrived from London turned out to be two smartly dressed, attractive ladies.

They made us feel like country bumpkins when one of them said: “This is the first time we’ve had to instruct mature men. We normally train young office girls.”

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