April 17, 2012

Carbon Copies I

Filed under: the process of archival processing — susanwoodland @ 6:45 pm

We use the term “cc” all the time.  Some of us remember using actual carbon paper to make copies of a typed document.  There are many carbon copies in the Federation files from the decades before office photocopiers became common, probably in Federation’s case in the 1970s.  The carbon copies are problematic for many reasons.  2 reasons stand out for me:

1. The paper used for the copy was a cheaper quality than the letterhead used for the original letter or report, and often turns brown and becomes brittle.  More on this in a later post.

2. Multiple carbon copies could be made using as many pieces of carbon paper as you could and still get a legible copy.  Many documents in these files are multiple sets of the same document, filed so that if another copy was needed, the document would not have to be retyped – which, often, it was.  There were rooms full of typists at many organizations and companies in the 1920s to 1950s, creating all the necessary sets of the same document as were needed – usually correspondence, as longer documents could be professionally printed.

A problem with carbons of course was that the greater the number of copies made at one time, the weaker the later copies would be – farther from the strike of the typewriter key and the inked ribbon.  The 2 versions of the document below subtly illustrate the difference.  If just a later carbon copy survives, it can be difficult or impossible to read or reproduce the document.

The 6th carbon copy of the same budget document

The original copy of a "recapitulation" of the 1941-42 budget of the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum



  1. Excellent blog entry. The visuals really brought your point home. I have no nostalgia for those carbon paper days.


    Comment by Betsy Karpenkopf — April 23, 2012 @ 7:37 am

  2. How to make faded carbon copy legible?


    Comment by Ruby — July 3, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

    • Ruby – I don’t know how to make a faded carbon copy legible; what we do is play with the dark/light features on a copier or a scanner to lighten the background and darken the words to try to create a more legible copy (on acid free paper) or digital surrogate. In such a case what we can preserve is the content of the words and the appearance of the page, rather than the original piece of paper, because the paper itself rarely has value as an “artifact”. What is usually of importance is the content of the words. We usually encounter fading in photostatic copies, especially when they are on thermal paper. Depending on the chemical make-up of the paper, it can be very susceptible to fading when exposed to light, and often at the same time the background is darkening. If you do want to preserve the original paper (sometimes there is original handwriting on a carbon copy), you should consult a paper conservator.


      Comment by susanwoodland — July 4, 2012 @ 8:25 am

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