Nostalgia freaks among us may readily recognize these flimsy relics of that earlier age when the term digital meant something to do with fingers. Labourers in the media and communications world many decades ago resorted often to the use of this stuff – messy black carbon paper – to file away copies of their deathless type-written prose. Secretaries and stenographers were doubtless the principal users but many if not most reporters found them handy when they wanted to keep a copy of text for whatever reason. Letter writers, another nearly extinct breed nowadays, occasionally slipped in a sheet so they’d know what they had said when replies arrived.
Carbon paper is described by one authority as “thin paper coated with a mixture of wax and pigment that is used between two sheets of ordinary paper to make one or more copies of an original document.” Offices of all kinds used carbons constantly with manual typewriters and they only fell into disuse when replaced by word processors and photocopiers. Few if any lamented the loss, relieved of the often messy routine of inserting and removing carbons and filing of dark stained flimsies. (Yet the term cc still commonly used in correspondence to denote copies actually derived from the term carbon copy.)
In my early journalistic days, working primarily in radio and TV in Newfoundland, I had little practical need for carbons, but used them often to keep copies of my stories, since originals stayed with station management. Well did I appreciate this custom when, decades after abandoning journalism for the dark side of government communications and then retirement, I decided to write a book (Yesterday`s News) about my news media career. Being able to quote verbatim from carbon copies of dramatic news stories lent the narrative a base of authenticity which mere reminiscence could not possibly achieve.
Coming upon these unexpected carbon sheets in a seldom opened subject file, my thoughts dredged up a far less pleasant recollection of many miserable hours spent in a student days summer time job in Montreal. As a temporary clerk, posted from one Canadian Pacific Railway office to another, I endured a full week doing nothing but removing carbon paper from copious office files. It took hours every night to wash away those dirty carbon stains.