|Friedrich Nietzsche and his typewriter
|Written by Sverre Avnskog
Why is an article about Friedrich Nietzsche and his typewriter found on this website, you might ask? A very relevant question, I must admit, given that the purpose of the site is to present an old religious book, published in
The most prominent owner of a writing ball was probably the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). In 1881, when he was almost blind, Nietzsche wanted to buy a typewriter to enable him to continue his writing, and from letters to his sister we know that he personally was in contact with “the inventor of the typewriter, Mr Malling-Hansen from
Nietzsche received his writing ball in 1882. It was the newest model, the portable tall one with a colour ribbon, serial number 125, and several typescripts are known to have been written by him on this writing ball. We know that Nietzsche was also familiar with the newest Remington typewriter (model 2), but as he wanted to buy a portable typewriter, he chose to buy the Malling-Hansen writing ball, as this model was lightweight and easy to carry — one might say that it was the "laptop" of that time.
Unfortunately Nietzsche wasn't totally satisfied with his purchase and never really mastered the use of the instrument. Until now, many people have tried to understand why Nietzsche did not make more use of it, and a number of theories have been suggested such as that it was an outdated and poor model, that it was possible to write only upper case letters, etc. Today we can say for certain that all this is only speculation without foundation.
The writing ball was a solidly constructed instrument, made by hand and equipped with all the features one would expect of a modern typewriter.
You can now read the details about the Nietzsche writing ball in a book, "Nietzches Schreibkigel", by Dieter Eberwein, vice-president of the International Rasmus Malling-Hansen Society, published by "Typoscript Verlag". In it, Eberwein tells the true story about Nietzche's writing ball based upon thorough investigation and restoration of the damaged machine.
Friedrich Nietszche was not aware that his trouble in using the machine was caused by damage to it during transportation to
Eberwein's conclusion is that Nietzsche's problem using the writing ball was caused by damages — not because the writing ball itself was an outdated model. Actually, the Hansen writing ball was an outstanding invention. It was simple to use and, unlike the Remington typewriter, worked almost silently. Both the Remington and the Hansen writing ball were exhibited at the World Exhibition in
In "The Illustrated Paris Universal Exhibition" of the 5th of October 1878, the journalist compares the writing ball and the Remington typewriter like this: "In the year
It is true that the Remington typewriter won the commercial competition and outdid the writing ball on the market, but to understand why, one must seek the reasons elsewhere than in the quality of the machines. The American investor, James Densmore, bought the patent rights to the Remington from the inventors, Sholes and Glidden, and invested tens of thousands of dollars to improve the machine. In 1873, the Remington factory, a producer of weapons and sewing machines, agreed to manufacture the improved typewriter. It is difficult to know exactly how many machines of this model were sold, but a realistic number is
Rasmus Malling-Hansen worked hard to try to raise enough capital to establish production of the writing ball on a larger scale, but unfortunately did not succeed. Therefore nobody could go to a store to take a look at a writing ball. Every machine had to be ordered from
Today the writing balls are among the most sought-after items among typewriter collectors, and a writing ball was reported to be sold for more than 100,000 Euros not long ago by the Köln Auction Team. Many collectors find the quality of the writing ball to be truly impressive!
To find out more, please visit Typoscript Verlag at this site:
To learn more about Rasmus Malling-Hansen, please visit the homepage of The International Rasmus malling-Hansen Society:
|Friedrich Niettzsche's writing machine - an 1878 model of the Malling-Hansen Writing Ball
|Friedrich Nietzsche - photo from 1882, at the time he was using his writing ball
That Friedrich Nietzsche actually wrote on his writing ball, the above writing samples are good proves of! About 60 Nietsche typescripts are known to exist. The poem to the right goes like this in English:
“THE WRITING BALL IS A THING LIKE ME: MADE OF IRON
YET EASILY TWISTED ON JOURNEYS.
PATIENCE AND TACT ARE REQUIRED IN ABUNDANCE
AS WELL AS FINE FINGERS TO USE US."
(Friedrich Nietzsche, on February 16th 1882)