ETCETERA / Design Dinosaurs: 8 Dymo Tape

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THE DYMO SYSTEM will be chiefly remembered for the bizarre obsession with labelling which it induced in tidy-minded people - especially, it seemed, science masters. By the late Seventies, those characteristic strips of shiny, coloured, self-adhesive tape, with their evenly spaced white block capitals, were everywhere.

Dymo by this time had its market taped, and the styling of the printer reflected the fact. Here was an office appliance that was also a toy, and what the various versions of the printer resembled more than anything was a ray gun. The moulded plastic or chromed steel shell fitted snugly in the hand, with the cartridge of tape housed in an ergonomic pistol grip. You turned a

daisy-wheel until the required letter appeared in a window, then squeezed the trigger; the letter was embossed on to the tape, with a hollow popping sound, and the white letter emerged from the muzzle of the gun. When the message was complete, you selected the scissors icon to cut the tape. Its apparent usefulness - there's rarely a reason not to label something - hid its true selling point: gadget appeal.

An American plumber named De Souza came up with the idea in 1954. It was an adaptation of the technology of the metal-strip embossing machine, once a familiar sight in railway stations and ironmongers. He sold the idea to the International Rotex (later Dymo) Corporation (now part of Esselte-Dymo, the Swedish office equipment giant). It arrived in Britain in 1959.

The hand-held Dymo printers went through many sizes and guises, printing

on to 6mm, 9mm or 12mm tape. But the principle never changed. Former Dymophiles are now busy with their PCs, turning out slick personalised stationery beside which Dymo tape seems as antiquated as the die-stamp. Even with adjustable letter-spacing and, from 1981, a Graphic system for flush, thermally 'revealed' print, Dymo tape has in spirit, if not in fact, already joined the card index, the suspension file, the typewriter and the other memorabilia beached by the computer age.