It will take someone with pretty deep pockets to purchase and transport what is being described by auction house Christie’s as one of four surviving 17th century French “pocket” calculators, to be sold in London in October.
With an estimated price of between £70 000 (R1.1 million) and £100 000, and with dimensions of 14.5cm by 32.5cm, the “pocket” description is a euphemism.
But the compact size of the paper-and-wood box with a fascinating array of 24 dials embedded in the lid was one of its main selling points, James Hyslop, the head of Christie’s science department, said.
It was invented by Rouen watchmaker Rene Grillet, who marketed his smaller and lighter device as a competitor to a sturdy but heavier brass machine invented by Blaise Pascal in 1642.
“I’d love to be able to tell you whose this was, but basically those stories never survive and if they did we’d be crowing about it from the rooftops,” Hyslop said.
“But we do know the creator went around to the equivalent of world’s fairs, in Paris and Amsterdam, advertising the new calculating device. He was a canny businessman and he was very canny about how these things worked.”
The calculating machine uses a logarithm called Napier’s bones and can do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It is being given pride of place in Christie’s bi-annual “Travel, Science and Natural History” auction on October 10. – Reuters