• FA-108410 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Information & Communication
1800 - 1849
At the moment this object is not published in the museum.

Pocket abacus

19th century



The abacus, a mechanical calculating tool, has already been used by merchants for thousands of years. Calculations are performed using beads sliding on wires.

Asian and European merchants have been using the abacus for calculations since ancient times. On the abacus, numerical values are depicted by beads sliding on wires. In accordance with the place value principle in the decimal system, the beads on the wire represent one, ten, one hundred etc. During the calculation, they are moved accordingly. Ten as a sum is not represented by ten beads valued at one, but instead by one bead valued at ten. This carryover always ensures transparency.

The Indian numerical system, which likewise has values from one to nine and a zero, is also based on the place value principle and decimal system. The zero makes it possible to represent the place value notation on paper, a much more efficient way of calculating than by using Roman numerals. In the Middle Ages, the Indian numerical system is introduced to Europe by Arabian merchants, thus enabling an efficient bookkeeping system for European merchants.

Inv.Nr. 54937
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