Whatever Happened To: Making Copies? Carbon Paper Did the Job Before Xerox

Ava Nash of West End, N.C. asks, whatever happened to carbon paper?

If you take your office copier for granted, you may have forgotten what was once the most feasible way to make multiple copies of a document - carbon paper.

Placing a sheet of carbon between two pieces of paper in your typewriter produces an original and one "carbon" copy. The type of carbon paper we usually think of is a sheet of tissue coated on one side with a carbon black formula and rotogravure-printed on the reverse for a clean, touchable surface.

But technology has made this method almost obsolete. "When the Japanese got into the business [of manufacturing copiers] and prices came down, that's when carbon paper died," says Russell Sherman, who once produced the paper at Nu-kote International in Rochester, N.Y., where, coincidentally, the copy machine was invented.

Carbon paper production consequentially has dropped 50 percent in the past five years, estimates George Skivington, vice president of purchasing at Nu-kote.

But Mr. Sherman still sells a small amount of the product through his printing and office supply company. A 10-sheet pack sells for $5.

Who still buys carbon paper? "People who don't want a computer or don't have access to a copier," says Sherman. "It has to be someone who understands what it's like to type a letter, and then, if you make one mistake, you type it all over again," he says. "Just think about that for awhile."

Well, at least ponder it on your way to the copy machine.

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