Once upon a time, copying a document was a matter of re-writing it out by hand, or going through an expensive and difficult process of typesetting. For a single person, duplicating and distributing multiple copies of a document in short order was impossible (although in 1780 James Watt kludged a single-copy process involving pressing damp tissue paper onto a handwritten document, as did I when I was six and bored and playing with magic markers).
Enter William Perkin. While trying to create synthetic quinine in 1856, Perkin was cleaning out one of his flasks. The gunk in the flask turned bright mauve when he mixed it with alcohol. Thus mauveine, the first synthetic organic chemical dye, was created. (Wiki)
This was important for two reasons: one, it changed the 1862 fashion season when Queen Victoria wore a gown dyed with Perkin's mauve.
|Mauveine dress, circa 1870-73|
According to Kinky Graphic Design History, the same dye appeared on a penny postage stamp, and simply everywhere.
More pertinently to this post, Robyn Tait, writing for the Bulletin of the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material, notes that Perkin's dye had the right chemical properties for a transferable ink. Soon upon the heels of this discovery, the jellygraph, also known as the gelatin duplicator or hectograph (for its supposed ability to produce a hundred copies), was born.
The jellygraph was a precursor to the Ditto machines that, if you're of the right vintage like me, or if you grew up in a school district that was limited in its technologies, you'll remember your teachers using to produce copies of tests and whatnot. Remember that purple ink? That's Perkin's mauve, although the Ditto machine used a different technology to transfer the ink.
If you've had a tattoo, your artist might have used a transfer to get the design onto your skin. The ink was probably purple - also Perkin's mauve.
The jellygraph is especially fascinating because if you have access to Perkin's mauve or some other aniline dye and a source of gelatin, you can make one yourself in a tray. In other words, you can gain somewhat easy access to a duplication device that is completely disposable. WWII Prisoners at Stalag Luft III and Colditz Castle used jellygraphs to copy documents so they could plan their escape. I can think of all kinds of situations where a jellygraph might come in handy.
Make yours today!