A calculator is a mechanical or electronic device designed for the purpose of performing basic mathematical calculations. Modern calculators are small, low-cost, mass produced items, and most mobile phones and many digital watches contain calculator functions. They are often used by school students, and for professional calculations that are simple enough to be achieved without the use of a computer. Scientific calculators are able to perform more complex calculations such as algebraic equations.
Calculator collecting has been a popular hobby since the 1970s, when the pocket calculator was developed.
Collectors often focus their collections on a specific manufacturer such as Texas or Hewlett-Packard, or a particular period of time.
Many people collect calculators through a nostalgia for vintage technology in the same manner as those who collect old computers or electronic appliances.
Modern calculators have their origins in the first mechanical calculators of the 17th century. The first of these (called the Pascaline) was invented in 1645 by French mathematician Blaise Pascal, and it was followed by the Stepped Reckoner (the first calculator that could perform all four arithmetic operations), created by Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz.
During the 18th century pinwheel calculators appeared, using sets of wheels and an adjustable number of teeth to perform calculations. The first of these was built by the Italina physicist Giovanni Poleni, and the design was refined throughout the 18th and 19th centuries by men such as Lord Stanhope of the United Kingdom, Polish clockmaker Izrael Staffel and Wilgott Theophil Odhner, who created the first pinwheel calculator to be mass manufactured in 1890.
The mechanical calculator market was launched, however, in 1851 with the Arithometer, designed by Thomas de Colmar. It was the first to find commercial success, and in 1878 the Swedish engineer W.T. Odhner created the Odhner Arithmometer which used a pinwheel engine.
One of the most striking designs of the 19th century was created by Charles Babbage, often considered the ‘father of modern computing’. His ‘Difference Engine’, built in 1822, was capable of holding and manipulating seven numbers of 31 decimal digits each.
The first half of the 20th century saw the gradual development of the mechanical calculator mechanism. Up until the 1960s manufacturers such as Friden, Monroe, and SCM/Marchant produced motor-driven desktop machines, and in 1948 the miniature Curta calculator, which was developed by Curt Herzstark in 1938, became the first hand-held calculator.
The late 1950s saw the development of the first electronic calculators, with the Model 14-A (which was built into a desk) produced by the Casio Computer Company in 1957, and the British Bell Punch/Sumlock Comptometer ANITA (the world’s first all-electronic desktop calculator) which appeared on the market in 1962.
During the 1960s there followed a series of similar machines from companies such as Canon, Mathatronics, Olivetti, Sony, Toshiba, and Wang. The Olivetti Programma 101 (1965) was capable of storing programs on magnetic cards, and is regarded as the first personal computer. The world’s first handheld electronic calculator was developed by Texas Instruments in 1967.
The rapidly-developing technology led to the first portable calculators, which appeared in Japan in 1970 and were soon marketed around the world. These included the Sanyo ICC-0081 "Mini Calculator", the Canon Pocketronic, and the Sharp QT-8B "micro Compet".
The first pocket-sized electronic calculator was Japanese manufacturer Busicom’s LE-120A "HANDY", produced in 1971. It was also the first model to use an LED display, use a single integrated circuit and run off replaceable batteries. The 1970s also saw the development of LCD displays, and the price of calculators became far more affordable for the mass market.
The 1980s saw many companies, such as Calculated Industries, producing specialist calculators for the real estate and construction industries, and Hewlet-Packard and Texas Instruments continued to produce high-function machines for the financial sector. The cost and size of digital technology now meant that calculators could be credit-card sized, and many were given away by businesses as free gifts and promotional items. Digital watches also began to feature calculators, and the market divided between simple function models and highly-specialised machines.
Today many of the specialised machines are still in production, and calculators are a common sight in most school classrooms. The prevalence of home computers means much of the work previously done on calculators is now done on a P.C or laptop, and the majority of mobile phones now have a built-in calculator function.
Types and manufacturers
Main article: List of types of calculator
Main article: List of calculator manufacturers
Main article: List of calculator collecting terms
The world’s most expensive calculator
The most expensive calculator ever sold at auction is a 19th century gilt and lacquered brass, mechanical calculator built by J.C Schuster. It appeared at auction at Christie’s, London, in 1993 with an estimated price of £15,000 - £20,000 and eventually sold for a world record price of £7,701,500 to Swiss clock dealer Edgar Mannheimer.