John Nye: hand drawing and copying in the early 1950s

John Nye describes practices of ink drawing, correcting and copying involved in preparing a thesis and scientific papers in the early 1950s.

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Things were pretty primitive. You had to, erm, if you’d sent a paper to a journal, you had to draw your diagrams on Bristol board, it was always Bristol board with ink pens. And we weren’t set up for any kind of photographing, so we had to then set up a camera and take a picture of what we’d drawn, and then reproduce from the negative the necessary number of copies.

Is that how your diagrams in papers on ice flow in the early ‘50s, how those were made, all by hand?

Oh yes, I drew them myself.

And what is Bristol board?

Bristol board was stuff made in Bristol, down at the board mills, which had a shiny side and a matt side, and you drew on the shiny side. It was a particularly fine sort of cardboard. It was difficult to draw them. For example, suppose you had a square with rounded corners. You learned to draw the corners first, the little quadrants first, because then it was easy to line up the lines with the ends of the quadrants. Not the other way round, which would be very difficult. And when you smudged a line, as you inevitably did sometimes, you had to take a razor blade, a Gillette razor blade, break it in your fingers so that you, it sounds very dangerous, but you did, and get thereby a little scraper, a pointed scraper, and then very carefully shave the edge of the line to make it so that it was not jagged. You always had to clean up your drawing, after you’d finished it, in that way. It was, it sounds very primitive, and I remember thinking at the time, when we had to fill in all the equations by hand in all the necessary copies, which was a very tedious business, I remember thinking how marvellous it would be to have a machine which actually took one fair copy and then reproduced it. My thesis at Cambridge had to be produced in four copies, and I remember some of the equations, writing, they were long things, I had to write them out four times. It took a long time to do that sort of thing. You had to allow for that.

  • Interviewee John Nye
  • Duration 00:02:32
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 6/4/2010
  • Shelfmark C1379/22

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