Schoty – 20th century Russian abacus

The schoty is a Russian abacus and consists of a wooden frame with horizontal rods for the various places. The word schoty (счёты) very likely derives from the Russian word счет (tcher) for account.

The schoty is used by moving the beads sideways along the horizontal rods. At the beginning all the beads are on the right. The result is always at the left-hand side.

The Russian abacus does not feature the usual horizontal division, nor does it have the five-bead sets like the Roman, Japanese (soroban) or Chinese (suanpan) abacus. There are ten beads on every rod of a schoty, with the fifth and sixth beads of a different color. These two beads serve as markers used to separate groups of beads like five-bead sets, for example.

Another distinguishing feature of the Russian abacus is that it is used horizontally. To facilitate their use, most of them slant upwards away from the user, with the lowest-place rod nearest to the user. Furthermore, the rods are slightly curved upwards, i.e. higher in the middle, which keeps the beads from sliding back when pushed right or left.

Often the first and fourth place rods have only four beads. They can be used for representing values of  ¼  in calculations involving currency, weights or measures. These rods can also be used to divide the rods into two sets: one for places in front of the decimal point and the other for places behind the decimal point – here their own (four) beads play no role. In general, the Russian abacus is easier but on the other hand slower to use than the Chinese and Japanese ones.

The type of abacus known in Europe was introduced by the officer and professor of mathematics Jean-Victor Poncelet (1788-1867) when he returned from Russia after Napoleon’s campaign there. It became popular in schools.

The schoty shown here dates from the 20th century and has a mortised wooden frame with four ornamental rosette-formed nails at the corners. The fourth rod has just four beads instead of the usual ten. This rod is used to perform calculations involving ¼-roubles or to designate the decimal point.