The history of mathematics has it beginnings around 2000 BC as evidenced by the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, but the use of complex instruments for calculation only started emerging with the invention of Napiers Bones in the early part of the seventeenth century and an adding machine by Sir Samuel Morland in 1666. Whilst the latter is impossibly rare, several examples of Napier’s Bones have, in recent years, come on the market. One dealer, David Coffeen, a regular exhibitor at the Scientific Instrument fair, has one set available on his website: www.etesseract.com.
Throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the slide rule held a pre-eminent position as the calculation device of choice. Many examples are still available at prices between £10 and £1000 making it quite possible to put together a good collection for a reasonable outlay. Made from boxwood, ivory and metal, they were made for both general purpose mathematical calculations using logarithms but also for more complex situations adapting formulae for solving problems for customs and excise, shipbuilding, water flow through pipes and many others.
Mechanical adding machines, although invented many years before, began to be developed in the nineteenth century. The Thomas de Colmar machine was one of these and is a very elegant device which now has an auction value of several thousand pounds for a good example.
There will definitely be some good examples of mechanical calculators, slide rules and other related instruments at the next Scientific Instrument Fair, 17 April 2016, at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel, Southampton Row, London.
Some examples are shown below
|Fuller's Time Telegraph|
|The Boucher Calculator|