In "traditional" handicap, when there is a ranking difference of 1, black plays first and there is no komi (Sensei's Library uses this term). But if you play without komi anyway, this is no handicap. In the days before komi, how was the 1-stone handicap handled? Or did the weaker player just take black, and handicap started at two stones?
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Taking the black stones always implied a handicap, even before the invention of komi. It has been known for centuries that black had an advantage. I think the real question is how even games worked before komi.
To my knowledge, there was no way to get actually even games. The main workaround I could think of would be repeated color switching. You may be be interested in the related concept of Jubango.
In Edo period go, the system worked like this:
Even: Taiga-sen (Alternating Black and White) One Dan difference: San-Ai-Sen (Black two out of three games) Two Dan difference: Josen (Always Black) Three Dan difference: Sen-Ni-Sen (Black two games, two stones on game) Four Dan difference: Sen-Ni (Alternating Black and two stones) Five Dan difference: (Always take two stones) Six Dan difference: (two handis twice, three handis once) Seven Dan difference: (three stones twice, two stones once) Eight Dan difference: (always take three stones)
It is important to note that you had a different handicap against each player, based of your individual results against each other. Also it was expected that you would play many games. Almost like tennis where you try to break the serve, if you won consistently while playing white, it was impressive (Black is expected to win more often, getting the first move)
If one player were clearly one stone weaker, he would ALWAYS take Black (with a "free" first move). If the players were regarded as even in strength, they would alternate taking Black. There was even an "intermediate" handicap where the weaker player would take Black, say, two times out of three.