A Rare and Peculiar Writing Ball in Sweden.
Research and comments by Jørgen Malling Christensen.
Research, comments and illustrations by Sverre Avnskog.
The Swedish town of Helsingborg, located on the eastern coast opposite its sister – the Danish town of Helsingør – has a museum with a very special item: A writing ball with keys in braille. What is so special about it, is that each braille key will produce an ordinary letter of the Swedish alphabet, when striking down the key.
The writing ball is an 1878 model, complete with its mahogany box. It is shown in very nice photos either by locating it in the museum database ‘carlotta’ or directly through this address: https://museum.helsingborg.se/web/object/42646
This writing ball has – to my knowledge – been unknown to our Society until now. According to the website information (in Swedish), the box is numbered: “100”. That could be the serial number of the item, but we don’t know for sure. Whatever the serial number may be, this is a writing ball we need to add to our data base of known writing balls!
SA: I'm afraid Jørgen in this case has fallen victim to a slightly failing memory. I sent out information along with all the great pictures of this writing ball almost two years ago. But Jørgen finds so much information related to Malling-Hansen, that it must be allowed to glide a little now and then. Jørgen is our foremost digger for gold grains regarding Malling-Hansen
The writing ball images come with a description in Swedish, and below is my translation:
Museum item 608-28: typewriter, writing ball.
The typewriter is mounted on a base of dark wood covered in red cloth. It has a lid, also covered with red cloth. Numbered: “100”.
The typewriter keyboards are in Braille which on paper are converted into Latin letters. The keyboard is shaped as a semi-sphere, with the keys striking towards a centre.
The pistons strike a colour ribbon, producing an imprint. The paper is fastened on a semi-spherical platen. The paper format is somewhat smaller than A4.
(JMC: The text states the name of the inventor, Rasmus Malling-Hansen, and his dates of birth and death. There is also a reference under ‘sources’ to the Danish Wikipedia and – gratifying for us! – to our Society website www.malling-hansen.org)
The height: 26,5 cm (box)
Paper frame: 14,3 cm x 20,8 cm
Background history: The typewriter belonged to saddler P.Andersson. According to the item records it has been changed by him by substituting the normal keyboards with Braille signs, because one of his sons was blind. However, this typewriter model was produced also with Braille in its original state, and hence his information cannot be confirmed.
(JMC: It is highly unlikely that the father changed the keys by his own device; the likely explanation is that he ordered this writing ball from Malling-Hansen with the specification: ‘Braille into letters’).
The writing ball was the first commercially produced typewriter. Rasmus Malling-Hansen invented the first model in 1865 and patented it in 1870. Subsequently, Malling-Hansen developed and improved his machine several times, and in 1878 he finalized the most well-known shape of all writing balls. The 1878 model was purely mechanical; previous models used electromagnetism to function.
In Denmark this typewriter was named the ”writing ball” after the shape designed for the machine. The basis of that design was to promote ergonomics and speed typing. Malling-Hansen experimented for several years during the late 1860s in order to achieve the most time efficient way of typing. The result was this hemisphere.
The writing ball was manufactured with ordinary letter- and number keys, only typing in upper case, and also with Braille keys, converted to ordinary letters when printed on the paper.