In a world where anything you could possibly ever hope to know is contained perfectly in our palm sized phones, it is hard to imagine that there was once a time that people did things by hand. Even math.
Had René Grillet de Roven possessed the ability to look into the future, he surely would not have been nearly as impressed with himself as he no doubt was. Thankfully he didn’t and we are the luckier for it. See, René Grillet de Roven crafted what is known as the world’s first pocket calculator. Without him, who knows what we’d be doing today? There might be a market for designer abacus holders. Imagine a world where you didn’t spend countless hours spelling out words like “boobs” on your calculator in school. How sad would that be?
Thankfully we don’t even have to entertain those sad thoughts because René Grillet de Roven did create a pocket calculator and now, if you are so inclined, you could own it. Set to go on auction at Christie’s in October, “the world’s first pocket calculator” is expected to go for around $100,000.
At the time of the pocket calculator’s creation in 1673, de Roven was watchmaker to His Royal Highness King Louis XIV. According to James Hyslop, who is the head of Travel, Science and Natural History at Christie’s, the calculator, “is one of the earliest surviving pieces in the history of the computer.” Calculators had been around for decades but it was this move from large brass monstrosities to something much more portable that makes this first pocket calculator so noteworthy.
Using John Napier’s logarithims, the Arithmetical machine is able to work out all arithmetic operations… addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The wooden box filled with dials and circles and gears… everything any proper mathematician could ever want. Any mathematician with a spare $100K laying around that is.