Fun for Nerds: Unconventional Typewriters

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Rasmus Malling-Hansen, 1835-1890, Danish inventor, minister and principal at the Royal Institute for the Deaf-mutes, reads the website of the Malling-Hansen Society. I’m sure this man contributed much to the education and aid of deaf-mutes, but I’m afraid he will only be remembered for one thing: the writing ball.

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The tech, culture, and books blog, Boing Boing, featured an intriguing invention this morning that I simply had to click on to learn more about. Turns out that this device is called a writing ball. After poring over the instructions for its use for quite some time and trying to study the mechanics of the writing ball solely from this photo, I still can’t figure out how it works. Boing Boing did highlight this passage from the writing ball’s webpage for explanation on how it works:

The whole apparatus (the writing ball included) is mounted on a stationary foundation plate in such a way that it can be moved down against a spring, when the writing ball or one of its pistons are forced down by the finger. The foundation plate has an upright anvil under the centre of the ball and directly under the paper frame. When a knob of a type piston is depressed, the paper resting on the anvil, below the same receives an impression. When the finger pressure on the type piston knob is removed, the instrument swings into its normal position. The escapement mechanism moved the paper frame that held the paper on space until the end of the line was reached. By pushing the button on the left in front of the ball all the way down, the carriage was turned concentrically back to the beginning of the line and moved one line to the left.

See what I mean? Confusing. The Malling-Hansen Society’s website claims that this writing ball was the superior typewriter design, but it did not succeed commercially. At least, not when it was first invented. In 2007, the site states, the writing ball was sold by collector Uwe Breker for 80,000 Euros. If only Malling-Hansen could know somehow what his writing ball sold for in this age of admiration for oddities.

Know of any interesting designs for everyday inventions that we use? Post them in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

5 thoughts on “Fun for Nerds: Unconventional Typewriters

  1. Lucas October 21, 2010 / 3:03 pm

    Oh man what a great post! In his book Still Life with Woodpecker Tom Robbins take breaks in between chapters of the narrative to discuss with the reader the trouble he is having with his typewriter he is writing the story on. Anyways, during one of these little passages he goes off on a tangent describing what would make a perfect typewriter. He describes like four or five but the only one I can remember was an exotic typewriter with mushrooms for keys and a lizards tongue for a red ribbon. There is also a bunch of great typewriter scenes in Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch. I myself type on a baby blue Royal Aristocrat with white keys. It has a smooth modern look like Stanley Kubrick would have used it on the set of A Clockwork Orange and writes everything in script. It’s amazing. I’ve also used this typewriter that looks like a rusty cab to write a short detective novel, it was such a good time.

    • Editor October 21, 2010 / 8:57 pm

      Wow, I have serious typewriter envy right now. I’ve seen pictures of those baby blue typewriters and I’ve always coveted them! That is so awesome that you actually write on one. Do you ever have issues with, like, making mistakes and just really wanting a ‘backspace’ key?

      • Lucas October 22, 2010 / 3:18 pm

        Well yes and no. I did my first semester of college without a computer at home and had to use my roommate’s typewriter. So when I was writing something for school I hated it because it was something I had to turn in and perfection on a typewriter is had to achieve. When it was something I was working on for myself I didn’t mind it as much because I just double space everything and if I want to change something I just XXXX over the mistake and write what I want over it. With my new Royal though I get to make corrections in red which is even better, because it just looks cool. Also listening to the clamor of a typewriter is really inspiring.

      • Editor October 24, 2010 / 9:08 pm

        That’s true, it would only really matter if you were writing things that you had to hand in. Ooh! Red corrections sound neat, I wouldn’t mind having that in amongst my writing. Thanks for sharing, that’s really awesome that you actually wrote stuff for college on a typewriter.

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