An Awesome Computational Black Cylinder - But NOT a Mac Pro

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The Curta hand cranked calculator was introduced in 1948. Developed by Curt Herzstark, it can do basic arithmetic and, a bit laboriously, square roots. This pepper grinder-like black cylinder is mechanically complex, beautifully made and ingenious.

Even though it remained popular in specific areas, such as sports car rallies even into the 1980s, it was generally superseded by the classic slide-rule in the 1950s and 60s. But who knows? Perhaps in the back of Jony Ive's mind, there loomed the concept of a black computational cylinder that ultimately resulted in the design of the late 2013 Mac Pro.

Computational speed:  Looks like a blazing hertz or two.


Check It Out: An Awesome Computational Black Cylinder - But NOT a Mac Pro

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For about a decade I collected Slide Rules. Still have a couple of the best ones. This though, outdoes anything I’ve seen before. I so want one to add to the collection.

Bryan Chaffin

Wow…just wow. So cool, John!


Believe it or not, I actually own one of those, unless my Ex threw it out. We lived in San Diego in 1970-71, and my then boss, Charlie Sullivan was so taken with the new electronic calculator, (4 functions only, Texas Instruments, over $300, I believe), that he just gave the Curta calculator to me. It came with it’s own black screw-lid domed can. It was indeed one of the most beautifully made objects I ever owned. The feel of the little gears turning inside was indescribably satisfying.

I’m gonna call her, and see if I can get it back.

Bryan Chaffin

Get out, iJack! Too cool. Please update us when you find out.


When I was into car rallying in the early 1970s, I drooled over Curta calculators.


Roger and wilco, Bryan.

Paul Goodwin

The mechanics of that thing hurt my brain. Too cool!!!!!

Paul Goodwin

I still have a couple of slide rules too.


I’ve still got a circular slide rule, but it’s not as mind blowing as the Curta.


Those were very cool but always out of my budget, back then. I have no idea what they sell for these days.

As far as comparison with slide rules is concerned, these are much, much more accurate. You can’t get slide rule calculations to better than three decimals and, even then, only if you’re very careful and precise.

The device that killed them really was the cheap digital calculator in the early 70’s.


“The device that killed them really was the cheap digital calculator in the early 70’s.”

Trust me, there were no cheap digital calculators in the early 70s. It wasn’t until the second half of the 70s when they prices plummeted, and functions like √, cos, sin, tan, pi, etc., that they became ubiquitous.


According to eBay they go for USD$1200/1300 +



Wow - only $1200/1300. I thought they would be much more.

Gary LearnTech

If you think that’s impressive (and I’m not disputing its appeal/ability/etc), watch out for this documentary about the “Antikythera Mechanism” in case it ever makes it to American airwaves or cables: “The Two-Thousand-Year-Old Computer”

I think it’s an original BBC production, as opposed to something they licensed.  Here in the UK, it’s on (again) this week.  I saw it last year and was amazed at the sophistication of the device.

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