13 November 2018

Review: Golden Gem Automatic Adding Machine

Not every calculator I find is in great shape. Most of them require a bit of a cleanup before they're ready for review, but some are broken or severely damaged. It's extremely satisfying to bring a non-working device back to life, especially one that has been neglected for possibly decades.

Golden Gem Automatic Adding Machine
The Golden Gem Adding Machine came out in 1907. This particular model ended production in 1910, so it's fair to say that this device is well over a hundred years old. This is not only the oldest calculator I own, but probably the oldest thing I own. I found it in a local thrift store for $10 and the people working there had no idea what it was.

I wish I knew this calculator's story. I'd love to know what purpose it served when it was brand new, where it went from there, and how it ended up in that glass display a hundred years later. What I do know is that it hadn't been cared for in some time, as much of it was covered in rust and the reset function wasn't working properly.

Yet despite its age, despite its condition, it worked just fine. It's a simple device only capable of adding, but it uses a clever series of gears and chains to accomplish this.

If you wanted to add, say, 86 plus 49, you'd start by pulling the chain in the tens slot from the number eight, then do the same with the six in the ones slot. Then to add 49, you simply repeat the process but with four and then nine. This would display the result of 135.

How it works is simple. Whenever a digit is at 9 and 1 is added to it, the digit resets to zero, and the next digit up increases by 1. It is this simplicity that has allowed this device to survive for over a century. It's also the quality of its construction.
I use a Bic pencil for the stylus.

Holding it, the calculator is much heavier than it looks. If you shake it, you can hear the one loose chain rattling around, but it's clear that everything else inside is solidly constructed. Each pull of the chain is difficult because the gears inside have a lot to do, but simply just work. This calculator can handle the strength you put into it, and at no point does it ever feel like it's going to break. It's basically a solid block of iron.

In the near future I will post about cleaning and repairing this device.

Disassembled device

Top view, stand deployed.
Back view.

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