If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that question... Since I started making contact prints I've been using an Amidol paper developer similar to those used by the Westons and Michael A. Smith. It's a disgusting brew that only lasts about 12 hours once you mix it. Its stains however, last much longer. Days on the skin, forever on your fingernails and trays or whatever else you happen to spill it on. I always made sure not to get my right hand in it so I could still shake without freaking people out. Then why use it you ask ...? It's redeeming qualities made it worthwhile - deep rich blacks, great mid tone separation and amazing highlight detail. For the past couple of years I thought it was the end all be all of paper developers and worth all the trouble.
Well, I decided to do a bit of research on the subject over the past couple of weeks and found several people who where using Ansel's old Ansco 130 formula and comparing it favorably to Amidol. The benefits beyond cleanliness were considerable, 6 month + shelf life once you mix your stock solution and even a couple month life for the working solution in a tray! That meant instead of mixing my precious (read expen$ive) Amidol only when I could commit to printing for several hours I would now be able to keep developer mixed and print when I only had a little time. Well, that was all it took and I ordered myself the chemicals and mixed a batch tonight.
I ended up making a finished print of one negative and it is washing as I type this. I chose a negative with tons of contrast, deep shadows, bright highlights and it even had the sun in the frame. The print came out beautifully and the developer was active enough to allow a slight contrast reducing water bath. Now I obviously need to see the print dried down and do a few more tests before I officially switch but things sure look promising and after a couple months of fingernail growth you might not be able to tell I ever used dirty old Amidol.