The Conan and Robert E. Howard Website


How to Photocopy Pulps

Photocopying rare, expensive pulp magazines without damaging them is a real challenge. Pulps are generally so brittle that opening the magazine and stretching out its pages flat enough to get a good photocopy will generally break the spine, crease the page, or (as happened to me) the page might break off from the magazine and crumble into bits and pieces. Another problem with photocopying pulps is that often the pulp’s pages are so brown due to age that it’s very difficult to make a clean photocopy of the text that doesn’t result in one big black page of toner. Any way you look at it, photocopying pulps can be a risky, often frustrating problem.

One possible solution could be to seek out and find a “book edge copier.” These are specially designed photocopying machines used to photocopy books and magazines. Generally, a book edge copier is a photocopy machine that has a special angled glass that will allow the book to be about 2/3rds open so that you don’t have to lay the book flat and press against the spine. Whereas this would do well for most books, the spines and pages of brittle pulp magazines will still break when opened to this 120 degree angle. Also, if the pulp is browned, the contrast adjustments on the book edge copier will often result in a page that is entirely black with toner and where the text is difficult or impossible to see. And lastly, these book edge copiers are very difficult to find. The best place to look would be in museums and universities, but then there is a problem of getting access to them.

There is also another machine that is computer based that is designed for the book to be opened face up, a digital camera is placed above the book, and the pages are digitally scanned. This would seem like a perfect solution except that most old pulp magazines don’t want to remain open and flat. Also, to open the magazine enough for the camera to scan it would result in many pulp’s spines breaking. A good idea, but not good enough.

The solution to this problem is to create your own pulp photocopying setup at home. This is what I did, and it’s working perfectly.
The main part of this setup is a glass "book opener/holder." I had a local glass shop make mine and it was about $25. It's 12" x 12", and has a 12" long x 4" high vertical "side" that I spray pained a flat black to stop light from bouncing off it and casting reflections. There is one small glass triangle to reinforce the bonding of the two pieces. The whole thing is made out of 3/16th inch glass. If I were to make it again, I'd use a slightly thinner glass for the "side" (maybe 1/8th"), and use a clear type of glass called "starfire glass." The glass I used has a slightly green tinge to it, but really it doesn't seem to interfere. Starfire glass would just be nice, not necessary, but it's also 5 times more expensive. The only other modification I would make would be to use some sort of different brace for reinforcement that wouldn't get in the way of lighting. The way I have it, the small triangle casts a shadow if I light the pulp from the same direction. As it turns out, it really is best to light the pulp with at least two lamps to even out the shadows and light intensity. That said, my setup is working pretty well.

The next thing you need is a digital camera. The choice of digital camera is key. Although you can probably take really fine and detailed pictures with any camera, it turns out that digitally editing and modifying the images in Photoshop to get suitable images to print in black and white is far too time consuming to bother with. Instead, I'm using a special feature on my camera called "white board" which turns the background white and any text black. This feature has become indespensible. The manual states that this setting is good for taking pictures of things on colored paper, and it works great on the browning paper of old pulps. Using the “white board” setting doesn’t result in the highest quality photos, but it's pretty darn close and, best of all, fast. I also made sure my camera has an excellent optical zoom. My zoom is 10x optical, and 27x digital (digital zoom is really just cropping and enlarging and is not a true zoom). The zoom comes in handy when I want to fill up the entire frame with the page (in other words to frame the picture). The camera I bought is an Olympus C-700 Ultra Zoom, and it was $600. I bought it because Olympus seems to have the best optics for the money. However, you could probably find a suitable camera for much less than I paid.

You also need something to mount the camera on and something to light the pulps. The metal pole you see in the picture to the right is a used studio camera mount I bought for $100. Its arm extends out over the pulp and allows me to place the camera directly above the pulp to take pictures. I made the light out of cheap materials found at the hardware store. Again, not the best, but it does the job. The bulb is a normal 150 watt soft white bulb. It would be best to have two lights to try to even out the light and balance the shadows.

Using the setup is fairly simple. Gently open the pulp and place the glass opener on top of one side of the magazine. The vertical glass piece will hold the pulp open without damaging it so you can take a picture. When done, lift the glass holder up off the pulp and turn the pulp around to take a picture of the other page, replacing the glass holder on top of the pulp, and so on. You do not need to push the pulp flat up against the side glass plate at a pure 90 degree angle in order to get a good picture. There is usually enough space between the spine and the beginning of the text to allow the pulp some space and bending room. But for smaller magazines or booklets, such as the Little Blue Books (small 4"x3" format), there isn't any space to give and they either have to be at a 90 degree angle for all the text on the page to be seen or you have to turn the glass holder around and keep the cover of the booklet open with your other hand. This, however, does not apply to the larger pulps. The pulp I showed in the picture is a beat up piece of junk, so I pushed it up against the side glass plate. Just to be safe, I wouldn't have done that with a normal pulp. There’s usually a good ½ inch of play there.

Lastly, since you'll be taking photographs with a digital camera, you'll need some good OCR software to scan the photographs and create the digital text. Omnipage has been the leading software for years, but word is that Abbyy Finereader is a fairly good OCR program as well. Make sure that you convert the resolution or DPI of all digital photographs to 300 DPI or your OCR program will probably not be able to scan the photographs.

I hope this has given others here some ideas on how to get around the problems of photocopying or duplicating old pulp magazines without damaging them.

Go Back To Main Page
and Issues
and Helpful Info
and Comics
Film and
and Groups

and Sounds
The Lord of
this Keep
Other Conan &
REH Web Sites
Page created by The KeepMaster