Show and Tell: The Curta Calculator

Inventern champ Sean Charlesworth joins us in the Tested office this week to share one of his prized possessions: a Curta mechanical calculator. Designed in the 1940s before electronic calculators, this hand-cranked device was considered the the most precise pocket calculator available, and was used by rally car drivers and aviators.

Comments (26)

26 thoughts on “Show and Tell: The Curta Calculator

  1. First time I heard about these amazing calculators was reading William Gibson’s brilliant novel ‘Pattern Recognition’ where one of the characters is dealer buying and selling them. Gibson describes them so wonderfully I had to find out if they were real and of course they were – I’d love to own one! Great video, thanks!

  2. Loved this video. Such a cool piece of engineering and Sean is getting pretty comfortable in front of the camera. I got to see his work at MakerFaire 2(?) years ago and was really impressed.

  3. Davies That is exactly the same place I discovered it. Big Gibson fan and have discovered many weird and wonderful things because of him.

  4. Awesome! Every rally codriver I know over 60 years old (more than you’d think) has used or still owns their Curta! Fellow codriver and friend let me check out his Curta 1 and Halda Twinmaster a couple years ago, spectacular pieces of rally kit that will bring your bank account to its knees!

  5. So true – I have an MA-1 bomber jacket because of that book. Not a Buzz RIckson’s though… 🙂

  6. Davies I’m going to really nerd out here – apparently the version of the MA-1 Buzz Rickson jacket that he describes in the book didn’t actually exist. After the book came out Buzz Rickson started getting all these order requests for a jacket they didn’t make. They had so many requests that they actually made a special edition Gibson version.

  7. As one might expect, I’m a nerd for this kind of thing (I used to grade homework using a slide rule. And I’m not old enough for that to be normal). A Curta has been on my want list for quite a while. I’m glad to hear that there’s a 3d print model out there. Now we just need a 3d print model of the antikythera mechanism…

  8. I wonder if you could use the disassembled photographs to create a 3d model and 3d print a working calculator.

  9. I have thought about that but the parts are so high-precision and all metal that I don’t know if you could get it to work or work for long. This is assuming a plastic print. Unless you drop a ton of money most metal prints wouldn’t be anywhere accurate enough and would need a ton of cleanup to get smooth enough to work. Still I think I 3D print just to show off the guts and concepts would be great.

  10. I think Sean is a great addition to the team – Works well with you guys and makes stuff interesting when he talks about them!

  11. you know this thing is actually very awesome, it goes to show you that pre-desktop computer’s or even the electronic calcs of the 70’s there were sophisticated products that could get things done. I would love to have one, but the $600 to $2000 price tag would be very prohibitive. also, if you had all of the parts and had a really good model you could print this out but it would have to be much larger than the original. this would be due to the precision, because even though you could get a small precision in order to make a out of the basket working model that could hold up (for a small amount of use) the upscale would make the fine pieces a little more robust for small usage. I don’t even know if you could use the metal type of 3d print would be able to make the intricate items that wouldn’t be rough and unusable. but a good 3d cad drawing would be awesome!!

  12. completely jealous. That is an amazing piece of technology. I looked it up on ebay, had a bit of a heart attack when i saw the prices, then slowly moved my mouse to close the tab. I’d love one one day.

  13. I know, I’m almost embarrassed to have one. Probably wouldn’t have bought one myself, have to thank my awesome wife. She found it for a steal on eBay, they didn’t really know what they had.

  14. “mine was from 1966 and was like around $125.”

    *shakes fists in the air* you lucky bastard! I’ve NEVER seen one of those things that cheap.

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