Copyrex Liquid Duplicator

This is the Copyrex Liquid Duplicator.


The Liquid (or Spirit) Duplicator was a cheap manual way to make lots of paper copies of in a pre-photocopy era.  They were used through most of the first half of the twentieth century and faded in popularity in the 70s.  Here is a description of how it worked:

“The duplicator used two-ply ‘spirit masters’. The first sheet could be typed, drawn, or written upon. The second sheet was coated with a layer of wax that had been impregnated with one of a variety of colorants. The pressure of writing or typing on the first sheet transferred the colored wax from the second sheet to the back side of the first sheet, producing a mirror image of the desired marks. This produced the same result of a sheet of carbon paper put in backwards. The two sheets were then separated, and the first sheet was fastened onto the drum of the machine, with the back side out. This acted like aprinting plate.  There is no separate ink used in spirit duplication as the wax transferred to the back side of the first sheet contained the ink. As the paper to be printed moved through the printer, the solvent was spread across each sheet by an absorbent wick. When the solvent-impregnated paper came into contact with the back side of the first sheet, it dissolved just enough of the pigmented wax to print the image onto the paper as it went under the printing drum.” (Wikipedia: Spirit Duplicator)

My search for the roots of the Copyrex Liquid Duplicator (as manufactured by Murdock-Rex Limited for Canadian Distribution) led me down a really bizarre path.  The first few searches landed me nothing–not even ebay postings for similar products, making this item the rarest of all the items I’ve posted to date.  After a few variations on my search, I came across a book called “Revealed Biblical Knowledge” which I first discounted as an error in the search, but then, using Google’s in-book search function, found the background of this company.

According to the snippets of paragraphs I could see, I was able to figure out that the real company that made these was Rex-Rotary International from Denmark, which had contacted a Mr. Murdock who owned a stationary store in Toronto and made a deal with him to distribute their office devices in Canada.  The resulting “Murdock-Rex Limited” company was eventually renamed Rex-Rotary Canada Inc and is still going strong today (although they no longer sell spirit duplicators).  It appears the Murdock-Rex name was used from the 30s to the 70s, so I can’t pinpoint the age of this particular duplicator any more than that.  What any of that has to do with Revealed Biblical Knowledge is anyone’s guess…

My Story

I had just started actively collecting for the museum when my dad called me and told me he had found something that would fit my collection.  He said it was a ‘spirit duplicator’ and he would bring it over later that day.  I immediately went online to find out what in the world a spirit duplicator was.  I feel like it’s not often nowadays that you run into something that you have absolutely no idea what it is.  Anyway, after a quick search online I right away recognized it as the machine Lisa Simpson uses to print her subversive “Red Dress Press” after Mr. Burns buys out all media outlets and cuts her power (The Simpsons, “The Fraudcast News”, Season 15, Episode 22).

Upon a second viewing, it turns out that was actually a mimeograph, which used ink and stencils instead of wax and alcohol, so while similar it was not quite the same thing.

My Thoughts

The common thread that keeps coming up with the spirit duplicator was that it was commonly used in schools, churches, and clubs to make newsletters and signs and fanzines.  There is something charmingly home-grown about having your own small-scale printing press.  Nowadays with everyone having easy access to a home printer, the revolutionary aspect of something like a spirit duplicator is lost.  And really, these days, the real equivalent wouldn’t even be printing up your own newsletters–rather it is the internet.  Something like this blog might have existed as a bizarre fanzine back in the day, although I guess back then it might have been about the fading technologies of the 1800s that no one was missing.

The other aspect of the spirit duplicator that’s fascinating is that it’s 100% mechanical and chemical.  It’s Achilles’ heel is that it is dependent upon having the proper materials–the alcohol and the specialized wax papers.  Most everything we use these days is powered by electricity, so much so that in response to recent disasters that have caused massive power outages, we’ve taken to creating mechanical devices that will help us re-power our electronic devices (like this hand-crank USB charger).  The spirit duplicator, if properly stocked, would function regardless of where it was.  I think that’s something we’re losing.

The other day I was reading my Kindle and it ran out of power and then the power in my house went out for three hours and I couldn’t read my book as a result.  It’s times like that that make me wonder how we got this way.  And then I remember:

I highly recommend watching this short film from 1949.  It’s a cheesy love story that is really a thinly-veiled advertisement, but the funny thing is that it’s not an ad for any specific product, but for ELECTRIC things in general.  Remember, Electricity is OUR FUTURE!


7 thoughts on “Copyrex Liquid Duplicator

    • I have a half a box of wax paper and some alcohol that came with it! I haven’t tried it out yet as I know it’s a bit scarce. But maybe if you could come up with a cool idea we could try it out at Christmas.

  1. That’s the best part about spirit duplicators. There wont be a shortage of supplies anytime soon. The fluid to run the machine is Methanol. Rarely, a blend of Methanol and Ethanol. These are very easy to get. The duplicating fluid on the market now (a seller on Amazon still has it) is 100% methanol. The spirit (wax) masters are heavily used by tattoo artists. All else you really need is good paper. ..mimeographs however are a different story.

  2. Pingback: The Cost of Antiquity | The Museum of Obsolete Technology

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