From carbon paper to laser printers

Media release: Friday, 1 August 2008

From carbon paper to laser printers, the story of office copying has been captured in The Office Copying Revolution, a new book by conservator Ian Batterham, published by the National Archives of Australia.

'Copying machines first appeared in the wake of the industrial revolution but more recently have even found a use in the area of fine art,' said Mr Batterham. 'For almost three centuries, government and business offices across the world have rushed to adopt new copying techniques as they became available.'

The Office Copying Revolution is liberally illustrated with quaint advertisements and colourful images of machines such as the 1870 'Malling Hansen writing ball' from Denmark, the world's first commercial typewriter.

Mr Batterham, who works as a conservator at the National Archives, describes the story of office copying as 'diverse and inventive'. It involves well known inventors such as Thomas Edison who developed the mimeograph machine and James Watt who invented the first copy press. It also tells the story of the demise of the typing pool when word processors came on the scene.

While generations of copying machines have become obsolete, their legacy resides in the historical collections of archives, libraries, personal collections and galleries across the world. Mr Batterham said it is the challenge for conservators in such institutions to preserve the copies that resulted from varying processes over the centuries.

He became interested in the history of office copying techniques 10 years ago when researching for his Master's thesis on 'Thermographic office copying'.

'I realised a single reference work on office copying didn't exist and it became my crusade to create such a book,' said Mr Batterham. 'I see it as a resource for people entrusted with the care of the millions of copies still in existence which were made on these machines.'

The book is aimed at a wide audience, including professional conservators, archivists, librarians and forensic document examiners. A helpful appendix provides an 11-step process to identify an unknown copy.

The book The Office Copying Revolution was launched on Thursday 24 July by Senator Kate Lundy at a symposium of the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material in Canberra.

You can place an order for The Office Copying Revolution in the National Archives online shop.

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017