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Exactus Mini Add Mechanical Calculator, 1958?

Praise be that we live in an age where calculators costs less than a pint of beer. Those of us born before the mid 1970s had no such luxury when it came to doing our sums and most of us spent a good deal of our time in school grappling with slide rules and being baffled by log tables.

 

We were also unlucky enough to grow up with an archaic and  peculiarly British currency system where, for no apparent reason a pound was made up of twenty shillings, which in turn comprised 12 pennies and until 1960 a penny was sub-divided into 4 farthings. Even with the farthing gone currency calculations remained fiendishly difficult and most of the population drew a huge sigh of relief when decimal currency was introduced in 1971.

 

For shopkeepers and those handling money on a regular  basis it wasn’t too bad, they either achieved a level of metal dexterity and were able to do £sd sums in their heads, or they had tills and mechanical calculators to do all the hard work for them. For the rest of us, and you were in a hurry you had to do a rough estimation or work it out on paper, or if you really wanted to do it the hard way you had one of these…

 

It’s an Exactus Mini Add mechanical currency calculator and it probably looks like a simple way to do pound shillings and pence calculations. It’s an ingenious design with numbers printed on metal slides that appear in little windows at the top of each column. In its default mode it does additions, but flip over a hinged panel and it’s all ready for subtractions. The number are moved by a metal stylus, there are no batteries, and in theory nothing to go wrong, and since it is made of metal (aluminium) you can drop it on the floor and it won’t fall apart. To reset the device just pull out the handle at the top and all of the sliders are moved back to zero. It sounds wonderful, so what’s the catch? Well, here’s how you do a basic addition sum.

 

Insert the metal stylus into the holes to the right of the first number and draw the slides down to the bottom of the column. The chosen number now appears in the circular windows. To add a second number to the first, if the digits are printed on the silver sections of the slider, just use the same method. However numbers printed on the red parts of the slider cannot be added since the slide has only 10 (or 12) numbers, so it cannot move down far enough. In this case you need to subtract the complement of the number and add ten in the next column. This is accomplished by inserting the stylus in to the hole opposite the wanted number, move it to the top of the column, slide the stylus sideways and move it around and down the u-bend at the top of the column. It gets worse, especially on sums of two or more numbers involving a lot of ‘carries’.

 

What Happened To It?

The Exactus was one of several makes of mechanical calculator and they were frequently sold through mail order; it was a regular in the classified sections of 50s and 60s newspapers and magazines like the wonderful old Exchange and Mart. No doubt regular users could eventually become quite adept at manipulating these things but it’s hard work, especially as they age, the slides get a bit stiff and the slots become worn. I’m guessing a lot of owners gave up and they ended up in the bin or the backs of drawers and were quickly forgotten. Even if they had lingered on into the 60s and 70s decimalisation would have killed them off, and the final nail in the coffin of mechanical calculators of all types came in the mid 70s with the introduction of low cost electronic calculators.

 

Nevertheless quite a few seem to have survived. Most weeks you’ll find one or two on ebay and this one cost me £5.00. It’s not an especially clean example and it lacks the wallet, instructions and stylus but it does work. You can expect to pay upwards of £20 for one in half decent condition with all of its accessories, and several times that for the rarer makes and models. Collecting mechanical calculators is still a bit of a minority interest so there’s good potential for grabbing a bargain, especially if you go for fixer-uppers and are handy with a screwdriver and oil can...


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1958?

Original Price                   £2 10s 6d

Value Today?                   £5.00 1212  

Features:                          Stirling (£sd) calculator, addition and subtraction, column display, stylus included

Power req.                        n/a

Weight:                             60g

Dimensions:                     106 x 70 x 5mm

Made in:                           England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     4


Sinclair FM Radio Watch, 1985

Back in the early 1960s Clive Sinclair had the bright idea of attaching one of his tiny radios (the Micro-6) to a strap so it could be worn on the wrist. His early radios were notoriously insensitive and unreliable and needless to say the idea never caught on but the notion of wearing technology on the wrist clearly stayed with Sir Clive and in 1975 he pioneered one of the first digital watches. Later, in 1984, he asked Dagfinn Aksnes, a Senior Product Designer at Sinclair Research, to begin work on a combined LCD watch and FM radio. The full story behind this remarkably innovative product can be found here.

 

For years it was thought that the watch was just another one of Sir Clive’s experimental products that he regularly floated to the media but rarely saw the light of day. This one was different, though, it actually went into production in 1985 and was close to going on sale when a mysterious warehouse fire in the US destroyed almost all of the 11,000 watches made and the project was shelved.

 

The fire and the fact that the watch never officially went on sale has made it one of the rarest Sinclair products there is so I was delighted to have finally got my hands on one, and best of all, it actually works.

 

One of the biggest surprises, if you have only ever seen it in pictures, is how small and neat and it is. The second surprise for Sinclair aficionados is the unexpectedly high build quality. Many Sinclair products fall apart if you so much as look at them but this one is a real piece of craftsmanship, I would like to say it’s built to last but sadly some of the materials used are doomed to deteriorate, but more on that after the guided tour.

 

The watch is in three parts held together by a tough hinge that wraps around the wrist. The lower module contains the 3-function LCD clock (time/date/alarm) and its battery. It’s fairly unremarkable and the tiny screen is barely visible but it is backlit and the knob on the side switches between loud and soft alarm and radio. The speaker and amplifier module are in the middle and contain a tiny moving coil speaker; the knob on the side controls the volume. Last but not least is the FM tuner and this houses a clever tuning device – see Dagfinn Aksnes’s write up for more details. Suffice it say it’s ingenious but like many Sinclair innovations, not necessarily built to last and it appears to be a common cause of failure on the few watches that come up for sale. Between each section there’s a set of rubber bellows, to keep out dust and moisture, and running between the sections and inside the strap, acting as the aerial there’s a flexible printed circuit, which was quite a novelty back then. The button cell for powering the radio is held in the strap clasp. Tiny circuit boards inside the case make use of another pioneering technology, surface mount components and all in all it is a truly impressive feat of miniaturisation and it looks pretty smart too.

 

What Happened To It?

A combination of the warehouse fire and financial problems almost certainly put paid to the watch, at least that’s the official version. However, reading between the lines on the various stories that have appeared there may well have been other factors at work. But whatever the reason for its demise, it was a bit of an oddity and unlikely to have sold in large numbers. I reckon that there were three basic problems. First performance; decent FM reception is only possible within sight of a transmitter and for obvious reasons the sound quality is poor and it’s not very loud.  Second, the watch element is far too small and at the time ‘proper’ digital watches with shed-loads of functions were selling for just a few pounds. The third reason, I suspect, would have been the price. It was never officially announced but my guess is that whatever it was, it would have been too expensive for the cash-strapped mid-eighties, if the costs of the hand assembly and high quality materials were to be recovered.

 

If it had made it into the wild I think there would have been a lot of returns. Parts, like the strap and bellows wouldn’t have aged well, especially in a humid atmosphere or wrapped around a sweaty wrist and would probably have failed within a few months and clever though it was the flexible printed circuit was just asking for trouble. Fortunately my one, which I bought a while ago on ebay for £85 (a very good price, probably as the auction ended late on a Wednesday morning…) has been very well looked after and here are no signs yet of decay. I can’t say for sure but I doubt that more than a couple of hundred FM Radio Watches survived and judging by the ones that turn up on ebay from time to time, most of those are dead, missing parts or in an advanced state of decay. If you ever come across one, and it’s in decent condition, and the price isn’t too steep, it could turn out to be a very worthwhile investment.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1985

Original Price                   £?

Value Today?                   £100 - £800 1112

Features:                          3-function (time/date/alarm) LCD watch with built-in FM radio and loudspeaker

Power req.                        2 x 1.3v button cells

Weight:                             510g

Dimensions:                     65 x 22 x 10mm (ex strap)

Made in:                           Great Britain

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     9


Sharp CT-660 Talking Time Clock, c1979

Talking clocks have been around for a surprisingly long time and the first one, which used a recording of a human voice, dates back to 1878, just a few years after the introduction of the phonograph on which it was based. Then there's the telephone speaking clocks, and they first appeared in the 1930s but it wasn't until the mid 1980s, following the development of inexpensive voice synthesiser chips, that the idea of talking clock for the home became a practical reality.

 

These days many electronic devices have voices and we take speech synthesis pretty much for granted but I believe the Sharp Talking Time featured here could be one of the earliest examples of a self-contained battery powered talking gadget.

 

It dates from the late 1970s and for its time it is surprisingly sophisticated. Press the yellow button on the top and it announces the present time, in a wacky robotic voice, not a million miles from the one used by Professor Stephen Hawking. It also has an hour function - it announces the time on the hour, there's a simple timer (1, 5 and 30 minutes), a stopwatch function and a daily alarm, with the spoken announcement preceded by a few plinky bars of Boccherini's Minuet. A hinged flap on the underside that covers the set-up controls opens to form a simple stand.  It's really well-made and the chrome plastic and brushed aluminium panels still look good after all these years.  

 

What Happened To It?

There was a brief craze for speech synthesis in the mid 1980s and all manner of things started speaking to us, from car dashboards to washing machines. Gradually the novelty wore off but you can still get talking clocks and watches, most computers can be persuaded to talk to you, and it plays a big part in automated telephone systems and so on.

 

I can date the Sharp Talking Time fairly precisely to around 1979, which was when I first heard about it whilst writing for a gadget magazine. This one was given to me by Sharp at a press conference in 1980, probably at the launch of a new VCR. Back then we used to be given a lot a promotional freebies and it has to be said they were often more interesting than the products we were being shown. I guess that I played with it for a short while before it ended up in a box in the loft, which explains the better than expected condition. It still works and the quirky voice is great reminder of how far speech synthesis has come in the intervening 30 or so years.

 

When they went on sale they cost in the region of £50 - £60 so it's unlikely that many were sold and probably very few have survived so it could be quite rare. I doubt that it's of much interest to horologists and clock and watch collectors, at least not yet but give it another 50 years and it'll probably be worth a small fortune...


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1979

Original Price                   £50?

Value Today?                   £10 0812

Features:                          LCD display showing hours, minutes and seconds, rotary volume control, 'speak' button, wrist lanyard, alarm, timer (1, 5 & 30 minutes), stopwatch function

Power req.                        2 x AA

Weight:                             125g

Dimensions:                     114 x 60 x 23mm

Made in:                           Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     8


Avia Swissonic Electronic Watch 1965?

Most people think that electronic watches first appeared in the mid 1970s but whilst it is fair to say that the earliest digital watches, with LED and later LCD displays date back to the seventies, electronic watches have been around since 1960.

The first of the breed was the legendary Bulova Accuton, which used an electronically ‘excited’ tuning fork, that ‘hummed’ at a constant frequency of 360Hz and was connected, through an ingenious mechanical linkage and gears, to the hands. This watch was accurate to within 2 seconds a day and was even used by the NASA astronauts on early space missions..

 

Sadly this isn’t an Accutron, but one of a number of watches that came hard on its heels, cashing in on the then trendy ‘electronic’ tag. ‘Battery powered’ would be a more apt description, though to be fair the tiny circuit board inside does have a handful of electronic components (a transistor, resistor, inductor and a capacitor). The circuit is a simple oscillator that drives a coil that produces a magnetic impulse that swings the balance wheel. From that point onwards it’s just like any other mechanical watch, nevertheless, it’s still quite a feat of engineering though it’s nowhere near as accurate as the Accutron.

 

This one, which I have owned since new, is accurate to around plus or minus 10 seconds a day, depending on the temperature, and the state of the battery. Speaking of which, they lasted only a few weeks. The battery cover, on the back, is helpfully marked with the numbers 1 – 12, to remind you when it is time to fit a new one.

 

It's a bit battered and showing its age but it is superbly well built; the case looks and feels like it has been hewn from a solid ingot of stainless steel. It’s really chunky and together with the metal strap it weighs a hefty 200g. It’s so well made, in fact that this one, which has been languishing in a box of old watches for the best part of 20 years, started working as soon as a fresh battery was inserted.

 

What Happened to It?

Very basic electronic watches like these were a passing fad that lasted only a few years. Accuracy was always an issue and it was easily outperformed by mid-priced mechanical watches. The ‘hearing aid’ batteries cost a pound or two and were hard to come by so they were quite expensive to run. I’m not sure when they finally disappeared but I suspect it was towards the end of the sixties when modestly priced ‘self-winding’ watches, became very popular. 

 

Highly accurate electronic 'quartz' controlled watches with analogue faces started appearing in the mid 1970s but digital watches didn’t really catch on until the late seventies, when LCD models arrived and prices plummeted. This now almost forgotten episode in watch design deserves more recognition though sadly watches like this one probably won’t become classics or highly collectable, like the Accutron. Nevertheless,  if you ever come across one grab it, it’s a little bit of horological history.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1965

Original Price                   £25?

Value Today?                   £50? 0612

Features:                          Electronic movement, sweep second hand, date display, luminous hands, battery replacement 'reminder'

Power req.                       1.3v button cell

Weight:                            200g

Dimensions:                     40 x 45 x 11mm (whd)

Made in:                           Switzerland

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     8


Rolling Ball Clock 1980?

Credit for the first clock to feature a rolling ball belongs to English clockmaker Sir William Congreve, who patented his design back in 1808. However, it was a far cry from the one you see here. In Congreve's design a ball rolls down a zig-zag track, which pivots as the ball reaches the end, acting like a pendulum.

 

This rolling ball clock was invented by Harley Mayenschein, an American engineer, who patented his design in 1979. Once a minute a ball is scooped up from a track at the bottom by a rotary arm and released at the top. On early versions the arm rotates continuously, on later models it does it in one action. The balls collect on counterbalanced pivoted arms. As soon as the arm is full the weight of the balls causes it to tip, one ball rolls onto the next level, the rest are returned to the 'reservoir'. The clock in the picture shows 5 balls on the lowest 'hour', arm, there are 4 balls on the 5-minute arm, giving a total of 20, and one ball on the minute, arm, so the time is 21 minutes past 5.

 

The earliest examples use a mains synchronous motor to drive the arm, on later versions the clock is governed by a simple clock movement. A cam on the minute dial operates a small switch that operates the arm that loads the balls. It's ingenious, fascinating to watch, especially at 12.59, when it gets a bit noisy as all of the arms empty their balls. Power comes from a set of 4 C-cells, held in compartment in the base, or from a mains adaptor

 

The original rolling ball clocks were handmade, out of wood but such was their popularity that Harley Mayenschien set up a company to make them, called the Idle Tyme Corporation, in the early 1980s. This was about the time when I first came across them whilst editing a magazine called Gadgets and Games.

 

What Happened to It?

It never went away and over the years several different versions have been made, both ready built and in kit form, there's even a giant one that uses bowling balls. This one is a fairly recent example, possibly late 80s, made by Arrow, who licensed the design in the early 1980s. I picked it up recently at a car boot sale for £12. Modern examples, made in China and badged Time Machine, can be found in gadget shops selling for around £30. I suspect original Idle Tyme clocks, made out of wood, are extremely rare and I wouldn't be at all surprised if good ones are now worth several hundred pounds.

 

Update

My thanks to Joe Mayenschein, the son of Harley Mayenschien, who writes to tell me that Idle Tyme has started manufacturing original wooden ball clocks once again, more details from the company's new website at: www.idle-tyme.com


 

GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                         £1979

Original Price                   £40

Value Today?                   £40 0312

Features:                           quartz controlled clock movement, pivoting hours, 5-minutes and minute arms, ball-bearing time indicators

Power req.                        4 x C cells or mains adaptor

Weight:                             1.25kg

Dimensions:                      16 x 26 x 20cm

Made in:                            USA

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):      5

 


Sinclair Black Watch, 1975

The Black watch was the first of Clive Sinclair’s forays into the world of digital timekeeping and another ground breaking product, being the first, and as far as I am aware, the only DIY digital watch kit. This was back in 1975, when digital watches were still rare, exotic and very expensive. At the time the kit cost £17.95; a ready-built version was also available for £25.95, which was a tidy sum thirty and a bit years ago

 

It’s a really stylish design with no visible controls, or display for that matter, you have to press two barely visible circular pads on the panels, just below the display window to fire up the tiny LEDs. This helps to prolong battery life, even so most users, checking the time 4 or 5 times a day would need to change them every week or two.

 

It gets worse; the four-digit display only shows the time, (hours, minutes and seconds) though a time and date version was produced. The metal strap is quite well made but the rest of the case is rather fragile and it marks easily. It also has a tendency to self destruct, so all in all it was up to Sinclair’s usual standards…

 

What Happened to it?

It was a huge flop, the kit was virtually impossible to build, even for those  experienced with a soldering iron. The electronics are based around two printed circuits, one of which is flexible and prone to fracture. The push button contacts are incredibly unreliable, but even when it was working it was inaccurate and gained or lost, according to the ambient temperature. The clock chip was easily damaged by static discharge; some users even claimed it would blow if you wore a nylon shirt. It ate batteries and if you dropped it, it flew apart. Tens of thousands of Black Watches were made but the return rate was very high and it was a financial disaster.

 

Working examples of the Black Watch turn up on ebay from time to time but alas this one no longer functions. It didn’t cost very much -- £15 at an antiques fair -- and I reckon that was pushing it. Runners especially if they are in good condition and boxed, can easily fetch £100 or more.

 

It’s not quite the end of the story and in 1985 Sinclair went on to make an outlandish and, for its day, technically advanced combined watch and FM radio. Several thousand were made but most of them were destroyed in a warehouse fire shortly before it was due to go on sale in the US. These are now incredibly rare and when they do turn up on ebay they invariably sell for between £300 and £500, and I have seen them going for as much as £800.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                         1975

Original Price                   £26.00

Value Today?                   £26.00 1011

Features:                          Time display (hours, minutes and seconds), two-button operation, wrist strap

Power req.                        2 x 1.2 volt button cells

Weight:                             50g

Dimensions:                      28 x 50 x 10mm (case, excuding strap)

Made in:                           England

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):     8


Binatone Digivox ‘Digital’ Alarm Clock, 1975?

Normally I can date a gadget fairly precisely, usually to within a year or two, but I freely admit to guessing the age of this one.

 

I reckon the Binatone Digivox Digital bedside radio alarm clock came out sometime in the mid 1970’s but I’m happy to be proved wrong. My reasons for that date are simple; the word ‘Digital’ was becoming a buzzword following the appearance of digital watches and calculators. The brown 'mockwood’ case is classic mid-70s design feature and at that time Binatone were a canny bunch and no doubt thought this was a quick and easy way to hop on the bandwagon, because as you can see, the word Digital is being used somewhat loosely…

 

The clock display is actually mechanical; the numbers or digits are printed on little hinged panels, attached to a rotating reel, and they flip over as the reel turns. It’s driven by a highly accurate synchronous electric motor, but the point is, no digital technology is involved anywhere in this product, not in the clock and definitely not in the 3-band AM/FM radio.

 

Feature-wise there’s not much to say. The clock and alarm adjuster knobs are on the left (the latter turns a reel graduated in 15 minutes intervals, covering a 24 hour period, and on the right there’s two knobs for tuning and two slide switches for waveband and mode (on/off/mode). The only other refinement is a small permanently on neon bulb to illuminate the display at night. It’s idiot proof and it works, and there’s no fangled Snooze button to confuse things.  

 

What Happened to it?

As we all know bedside radio alarm clocks never went away but towards the end of the 70s LED displays had become so cheap that there was no point making clocks like this anymore so I’m guessing it wasn’t around for very long.  Pukka ‘digital’ displays became the norm though interestingly even today most models are no more accurate as this one. That’s because most mains powered clocks derive their time timing signals from the mains frequency, which is very carefully maintained at an average of 50Hz over a 24-hour period. This practice goes way back and has used to ensure mains powered clocks keep good time since the year dot.

 

This one came from a car boot sale and it set me back £1.00. After a quick wipe over, a squirt or two of contact cleaner and a check around to make sure it wasn’t going to burst into flames, the clock and radio powered up and both ran straight away. A lot of these clocks were sold though probably not that many are around to tell the tale so it could be an area for future collectors of late 20th century ephemera, and if any alarm clock collectors or Binatone experts read this I would really like to be able to put a more accurate date on it. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                         1975?

Original Price                   £10-£15

Value Today?                   £1 - £5 0611

Features:                          On/off volume switch, tuning, waveband, clock/alarm adjust & set
Power req.                        230VAC mains

Weight:                             1kg

Dimensions:                     270 x 135 x 80mm

Made in:                            Hong Kong

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):   5


Sinclair Cambridge Calculator, 1974 (Manual)

It’s impossible to overstate the impact electronic calculators had on us all back in the 1970s, until that point if you wanted to do a complex calculation, and by that I mean anything that didn’t involve the times tables, you had to resort to fearful things called Logarithms, master the intricacies of the mechanical slide rule, be employed in an office or very well off and own an adding machine.

 

Although adding machines and later calculators had been around long before Clive Sinclair got in on the act, few could afford them, let alone lift them… The Sinclair Cambridge was the first affordable pocket calculator, though it’s debatable how many ordinary folks could afford to lash out £43 on one of these gizmos, equivalent to several hundred pounds in today’s money. Kit versions were also available, though I seem to remember they didn’t hang around for very long since like most Sinclair DIY kits, they had a tendency not to work.

 

The Sinclair Cambridge, and this is the later Mk 3 version, had just four functions (add, subtract, multiply and divide, plus a Constant (K) functions, which is a very crude sort of memory, but just being able to carry out calculations to 8 decimal places, on a little box that would fit in a shirt pocket was nothing short of miraculous. Sadly build quality was up (or down) to Sinclair’s usual standard and they could be quite unreliable, and the keys were such a loose fit that they rattled, but hey, this one, picked up from ebay for £20 still works, even if you do need a magnifying glass to see the display.

 

What Happened To It?

For a few years Sinclair did quite well with calculators and later models featured increasingly complex scientific functions but inevitably manufacturers in the Far East started churning them out at prices that home-grown manufacturers like Sinclair couldn’t compete with. In any event, by the late 70’s Sir Clive had started turning his attention to computers and within a couple of years calculators had become basic commodity items and therefore of little interest to most people. This one came with its original felt carry case and instructions, which is quiet rare. Quite a few of them were made, so they’re not too difficult to find but runners are a bit thin on the ground, and if you’re in the market for one make sure you check the battery compartment as a leaky battery will destroy the innards.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1973

Original Price                   £43

Value Today?                   £25 0311

Features:                          8-digit LED display, 4-functions plus Constant (K)
Power req.                       4 x AAA

Weight:                            50g

Dimensions:                     111 x 50 x 28mm

Made in:                           England

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):    6


Bowmar LED Digital Watch 1972

You can tell when a gadget has acquired nostalgia value because the market is suddenly awash with modern reproductions. That’s certainly starting to happen with that classic piece of 70s cool technology, the LED watch.

 

These crazy devices really stated to take off after getting a weekly airing on the TV series Kojak, starring the bald lollipop-sucking detective, played by Telly ‘who loves ya baby’ Savalas. Early LED watches also had numerous walk-on roles in movies as funky or futuristic props and one model -- forget which -- featured prominently in a couple of scenes in a Bond film. At first they were horribly expensive, the first few models sold for several hundred pounds but by the mid seventies the price had dropped dramatically and very soon everyone had one.

 

What made the whole LED watch phenomenon really weird was the fact that they were completely useless because they only told the time when you pressed the little button on the side. It had to be that way because early LEDs consumed vast amounts of power and if lit continuously would suck the button cells dry in just a few minutes. As it was they only lasted a few weeks -- a few months if you didn’t use it very often -- making them one of the most impractical time pieces, of all time…

 

This one is a Bowmar and occasionally it can be persuaded to work but it’s not a very good example of the genre but the case and strap are in pretty good shape. Unfortunately they’re almost impossible to repair and all you can really do is replace the module, which is simply not economic.

 

Bowmar were an American company specialising in LED displays and they were briefly quite well known for making one of the first electronic calculators; its modest range of watches were assembled in Hong Kong.

 

What Happened To It?

LED watches vanished almost overnight when the first Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) watches started to appear in the late seventies. Most of them simply gathered dust and were eventually thrown away, or the button cells were left inside and they leaked and corroded the innards but judging by the numbers on ebay a fair few have survived. If you are interested in starting a collection be warned that most of the ones you will see are repros, and if you do buy an original, make sure that it works. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                         1972

Original Price                   £25.00

Value Today?                   £10.00 0311

Features:                           Press button time display
Power req.                        1 x 1.2 volt button cell

Weight:                             38g

Dimensions:                      35 x 35 x 00 mm

Made in:                            Hong Kong

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):      5


The Technical Standard Slide Rule 1966

To anyone under 30 a slide rule is probably something of a mystery (as it was to many of us over 30...), but before the advent of the electronic pocket calculator this was the quickest and indeed the only way to do complex sums, without resorting to a computer.

 

Those who managed to master its intricacies were able to carry out calculations faster than any adding machine or early calculator, and were often more accurate, however, they could be fiendishly difficult to drive, particularly the more specialised models.

 

This one is a little more advanced than the basic models forced upon maths students, and judging by the crib card on the back, detailing formulas for calculating the densities, specific gravity and cubic weights of materials like brick, cement, clay, slate and various metals, it was aimed at builders and architects. It’s missing its slider or reticule, used to align digits and read out the results but otherwise it is in good condition and still has its well-worn cardboard box

 

What Happened to it?

Slide rules disappeared very quickly in the mid 1970s following the arrival of the first affordable pocket calculators and with it came a great sigh of relief from generations of baffled schoolkids.

 

A few die-hards hung on to their slide rules but it was a doomed technology, mind you, they did have one big advantage over early calculators, they didn’t need batteries…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                         1968

Original Price                   £3

Value Today?                   £5 0211

Features:                          Logarithmic slide rule, reversible slide, common formulas and calculations on rear, inch/cm rulers

Power req.                        n/a

Weight:                             0.1kg

Dimensions:                     305 x 45 x 15 mm

Made in:                            England

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):  5


Radofin Triton 1400 Pocket Calculator 1974

At first glance there’s nothing particularly remarkable about this pocket calculator but look a little closer, the display uses microscopic 7- segment LEDs instead of an LCD and there’s fewer buttons than you would expect to see on a modern device. The Radofin Triton 1400 is actually over 30 years old and was in the first wave of cheap pocket calculators, following just a year or two after the pioneering models launched by Sharp, Texas and Sinclair.

 

This particular model was made in Hong Kong but Radofin was actually a UK company and its first machines were built in the UK.

 

By current standards it is extremely crude, and the software is riddled with bugs, especially if you try to make it do ‘impossible’ sums – enter divide > point > zero and watch it go quietly mad... The ‘K’ button (it is supposed to mean ‘Konstant’) is an early attempt at a memory function, though it is also very easily confused. Nevertheless, at the time using one of these things for the first time and being able to carry out complex calculations in fractions of a second was nothing short of a miracle, especially for a generation that had been bought up with and struggled with the complexities of logarithms (whatever happened to them?) and slide rules.

 

What happened to it?

Calculators continued to get smarter, smaller and cheaper but one of the biggest innovations was the introduction of the LCD in the late 1970s, which replaced the battery sapping LEDs used previously. We now take calculators totally for granted, they’re cheap enough to be given away, they dangle from key rings in short they are just another disposable commodity, but they have a fascinating history and very early models from the 70s, which were built in comparatively small numbers, are becoming sought after collectibles. If you see one at a jumble or car-boot sale, especially if it has an LED display grab it!


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                   1974

Original Price              c. £20

Value Today?              £10 0111

Features:                     8-digit LED display, four functions (plus, minus, subtract & divide)

Power req.                   9v PP2

Weight:                        800g

Dimensions:                120 x 65 x 25 (very approx)

Made in:                       Hong Kong

Rarity:                          7 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)

 

 

 

 

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