Report from the 6th Bi-annual General Meeting of the International Rasmus Malling-Hansen Society 2016

The meeting was organized and conducted by the president of the Society, Jørgen Malling Christensen.

The meeting took place August 13, 2016, and the venue was the Danish Museum of Technology and Science, Helsingor, Denmark.


This was our 10th anniversary as a society, and once again it proved to be a pleasant and fruitful learning event, spiced by a venue where we were surrounded by an array of impressive technical innovations!


16 members were in attendance, fewer than we hoped for, but then again quite a number of members were incapacitated by illness and some were not able to participate because of important family obligations. We are happy with those who found their way to Helsingør – some of them from far away! – and grateful for each and everyone’s attendance.


The meeting was held inside the fire and rescue station of the museum, where the new director, Mr Jesper Buris Larsen, had graciously allowed us to convene. Not only that: we were privileged to have the former director and long-term friend of our Society, Jens Breinegaard, as our organizer and museum guide!


The meeting started by Jens Breinegaard welcoming us to the museum, the very venue where our Society was inaugurated 10 years ago (May 6, 2006) by sixteen founding members.


After Jens’ kind words of welcome, the President, Jørgen Malling Christensen, welcomed the participants, paying tribute to the museum and to Jens Breinegaard for the privilege of being able to hold our 10 year anniversary at this venue and to have the full and able cooperation of Jens in the process.


Quite a number of members and friends, who were not able to attend the meeting, had sent their warmest greetings to the participants and good wishes for the future of the Society, namely:


- Jesper Buris Larsen; Stefan and Mägi Beck; Paul Bech; Sverre Avnskog; Lars and Lone Mathiesen; Carsten Erik Noe; Kim Fleischer Michaelsen; Felix Herbst; Jos Legrand.


After conveying these good wishes, the President presented the agenda.


Jane Skou was appointed secretary for the meeting.

The President welcoming members and friends to the meeting, inside the section for fire brigade vehicles of the Danish Museum for Science and Technology.
Secretary of the meeting and new board member: Jane Skou.
Poster made in memory of the meeting, by Sverre Avnskog. The poster shows specimens of all the writing balls owned by the Museum of Technology and Science.

Subsequently, the President reported on main events since our last AGM in May 2014, highlighting:


1) The Malthe Engelstedt painting from 1888, “L’hombre-playing friends” featuring Rasmus Malling-Hansen playing cards with three of his close friends. The painting and the actual card table were sold by Anne Ritzau to a relative. The bid from our Society was too low to compete.


2) The writing ball no 102, discovered by chance in Stockholm in February 2015, restored by Peter Pluntky, in excellent working order and later sold (or in the process).


3) The issue on March 14, 2015 of four Danish postage stamps, featuring four important Danish inventions, among them the writing ball. Full credit goes to the Danish Museum for Science and Technology - and in particular to Jens Breinegaard – for proposing to include the writing ball and to argue the case with the Danish Post Office.


4) The tragic and premature death on April 16, 2015 of our founding member and the originator of the International Rasmus Malling-Hansen Society, Christian Barnholt, shocked and saddened us all. He will be forever remembered as the firebrand and enthusiast who started research on Malling-Hansen back in the mid 1980s and singlehandedly pursued his passion for research and documentation on this issue, paving the way for others to follow. Christian’s initiatives and contributions will forever stay with us. He was a forerunner and a pioneer.


5) The President showed the members the new memorial plaque to be mounted on one of the gables of the birthplace of Malling-Hansen at Hunseby. The plaque is of a more durable quality and is expected to last much longer than the present plaque.


6) On September 15, 2015 Bruun-Rasmussen Auctioneers in Copenhagen auctioned writing ball no 94. After restoration by Dieter Eberwein it was later auctioned off once again through the Breker auctions.


7) The extraordinary exhibition “SKRIV” at the Danish Museum of Science and Technology was inaugurated on October 6, 2015 with the participation of the President and the Treasurer. The wonderful display included 8 writing balls; much credit goes to the curator Louise Skyggebjerg for this innovative exhibition as well as to Jens Breinegaard, who played a key role in its conception and final shape. Two of our members made valuable contributions: Dieter Eberwein carefully and professionally restored writing ball no 46! And Felix Herbst created an animation, whereby one can experience the feeling of typing on a writing ball! The President emphasized how proud we are of having as members these two persons with highly specialised and unique talents, able to make such valuable contributions to museums and exhibitions around the world. He also called the attention to the fact that our immense and steadily expanding website documentation is free and available for the use of the Danish Museum of Science and Technology, as well as for other similar museums and institutions! We ARE a historical in-depth research project! And within the parameters of our niche – the life and achievements of Rasmus Malling-Hansen – our database is outstanding and unique in its depth, quality and scope.


8) The DASA permanent exhibition in Dortmund, Germany, has a wonderful section on writing and printing. It includes a beautiful specimen of the writing ball, and in addition Felix Herbst also here has created a marvellous animation allowing you to type on a metal replica of the writing ball and seeing on a computer screen what your are writing.


9) Over the last two years our website has continued to grow – we have added on new document per week! A total of circa 100 new documents in two years! We now have the complete and unabridged texts of all of Malling-Hansen’s major publications: Fragments 1, 2 and 3.


Following the management board report on major events and activities, we turned to the financial report. In the absence of the Treasurer, Lars Mathiesen, who had been taken ill just the day before, Jacob Erlangsen reported that the financial situation is sound, however not opulent, with around 12,000 DKK in our balance. The member fee continues to be our only source of income. It was proposed by the President and decided by the members present to maintain the member fee at the level of 300 DKK per member and year.


Once again it was noted by several that we need more members and that we need the members to pay their dues. Some of the board members have heavy tasks to perform – and do it happily – but we need all members to at least pay their fees. Research takes a long time – hundreds and thousands of hours are being spent in archives and with the transcriptions and translations and also with the care of the website (webmaster Sverre Avnskog), and without this input the Society will not develop.


After the financial issues followed election of the board members. All present board members were available for re-election, and the meeting decided thus. In addition, the President pointed out that the Society rules stipulate that the board members are 7, and that presently we are 6. He proposed Jane Skou as new board member, and the meeting agreed unanimously to elect her.


Under the issue of “any other issue”, Uwe Breker suggested the Treasurer to alert and encourage the members to pay the fee at the beginning of each calendar year, and the meeting agreed.


The formal part of the agenda proceedings thus completed, the participants spent time investigating the many RMH-related items and documents displayed on the tables in the meeting room.


After this display and many interesting explanations and questions related to the items, the members were treated to a lovely lunch of typical Danish open sandwiches, served at the museum cafeteria, courtesy of the Society (organized by Jens).

Jørgen Malling explaining details of writing balls and showing the new memorial plaque to be put up at the Rasmus Malling-Hansen birthplace, Hunseby.
Rare books, unique illustrations and many other fascinating items related to Malling-Hansen were displayed.
Several of the participants were direct descendents of Malling-Hansen, among them Fritz Bech, Elliot Bech, Madeleine Bech, Jacob and Elsebet Erlangsen.
Fritz Bech studying the recent German edition of Rasmus Malling-Hansen’s main scientific work, while Diane Bech and daughter Madeleine are admiring illustrations of the writing ball.

One of the smallest – and most amazing – items on display was Felix Herbst’s tiny, yet 100% accurate and complete 3-dimensional printing of a 1878 writing ball! It can be ordered!
Jens Breinegaard, former director of the museum and long-term friend of our Society, was our host and guide, showing us the SKRIV-exhibition.

Coffee break with a backdrop of ancient vehicles and airplanes.
In the cafeteria we were served coffe twice and a delicious lunch of open Danish sandwiches, all of it organised by Jens Breinegaard.

After lunch, the meeting adjourned to the rooms housing the amazing “SKRIV” exhibition, and after an introduction by Jens Breinegaard, members toured the various rooms and items, the centre of focus, of course, being the 8 RMH writing balls in all their splendour, technical complexity and beauty. They have not been accessible to the public for many years, but thanks to this special exhibition they were once again made available for close scrutiny and admiration. Seeing them together in the same room it becomes obvious how Malling-Hansen’s genious very quickly developed extremely varied and increasingly complicated machines – better, aesthetically more beautiful – culminating in the 1878 version – and, surprisingly, also cheaper models.


After the wonderful tour of the SKRIV-exhibition, we gathered in the meeting once more in order to hear the presentation by Dieter Eberwein about his restoration work with writing ball no 46. This time Dieter’s presentation was short but very much to the point and well accompanied with his own marvellous close-up photos. All participants learned much from Dieter’s presentation and also gained an important insight in the very special world of restoration of antique machines with its minute details of tools and methods.


After the meeting we met at the Italian Dolce Vita restaurant for a meal, offered by the Society, and the good atmosphere of the entire day continued well into late evening, animated by interesting conversation between all members and friends present.


Concerning a possible venue for our next meeting in 2018 a couple of ideas were floated during the day, one of which centered on the freemason loge in Copenhagen and the other one hinted at the possibility of organizing the event in the United States of America! Both of which are open for further discussion, ideas and preparation.



This report was produced by Jane Skou and Jørgen Malling Christensen. All photos: Dieter Eberwein.

Jane Skou trying out Felix Herbst’s animation of the writing ball.
Founding member and board member Uwe Breker admiring the 8 writing balls on display.
This photo includes five of the writing balls.
The Sosiety also visited the Danish Museum of Science and Technology in connection with our founding meeting in 2006. In front you can see all the writing balls that the museum owns.