The Original “Pocket Calculator”
The Original "Pocket Calculator"
In an era before pencils and ballpoint pens, portability was a key advantage of the abacus. It enabled vendors or tax collectors, for instance, to make calculations anywhere, even standing in a marketplace where jotting down figures was impractical.
Abacuses evolved in various forms at different times and places. But all share certain basic characteristics: movable markers (beads, stones, beans, sticks, coins) arranged in vertical or horizontal columns, with different rows representing different values (ones, fives, tens, etc.). Moving the markers “activates” them, creating different combination's of values.
This merchant family’s table abacus, or “counting table,” served as both calculator and shop counter.View Artifact Detail
Counters Become Countertops!
Up through the 1700s, the tabletop abacus or counting board was widespread in Europe. Shopkeepers traditionally faced their customers across the device as they added up purchases.
This “counting board” evolved into the English word “counter” to describe the working surface in a store, and later any working surface—like kitchen counters.
A table-abacus competes against longhand calculations using “Arabic” numerals, which were still new in Europe. Either one could trounce calculating by hand with Roman numerals—but which was faster? Are the coins a wager on the outcome?View Artifact Detail