Agh the smell of the spirit, the beating click click click of the drum as you turned it, the remnant of wax on your fingers … I come to pay homage to the old Banda machine (as we called it in England). Invented in 1923 and basically not developing much since, destined to be put out to pasture courtesy of the photocopier machine, the good old rolio (as it was called in Australia?) or “ditto” (US) was a feature of pre 1990s schools, churches and libraries, where earnest professionals copied off class room lots of purple typefaced handouts. The printing faded over time, but you could get creative by applying different coloured wax backings – great for Maths or Economics charts or diagrams – and if you kept the originals carefully enough, you could print off more the next time (although they were never quite as good the second or third time around).
I remember coming across this amazing contraption in my first year of teaching, 1986, in a government school in Hertfordshire. It took some getting used to, but you could get the waxed backed paper into a typewriter (agh remember them?!) or carefully write on them (no mistakes allowed, nothing could be erased once the impression on the waxed backing had been made), before carefully inserting the paper into the Banda (get it the right way round, and make sure you have enough of the backed paper in the open slit but not too much) and carefully rolling the drum to produce your copies. Slow, steady rolls, not too fast as the paper would dislodge, too slow and you’d impart too much spirit and splotch your production. The paper often scrunched, your waxed back original could rip, the alcoholic spirit might be too less or too much … this was an art not a science. The cries of anguish could be heard in the main staff room and probably down the hallowed halls. But my departmental budget did not run into photocopying (easier, no original production required, but only black and white), so it was off to the Banda machine to create my handouts.
While I don’t want for those per Internet times again, there was something wonderfully Heath Robinson about the Banda, and creative about what you could do with it. And the smell – oh yes.