The arithmetic manipulator by Niccola Guinigi from 1858

In Tito Gonella’s notes as well as in the local Italian newspaper, the “Monitore Toscano” on February 10, 1859 you’ll find a mention of a mechanical calculator built by Niccola Guinigi from Lucca. Until 2010 this calculator was considered lost. 150 years after Niccola Guinigi presented his mechanical calculator to the Tuscan Academy of Arts and Crafts, the missing artifact was rediscovered in the Milanese antique dealer Subert. Today it is part of the Arithmeum collection.

Niccola Guinigi designed the arithmetic manipulator to be able to (quote:) “[..] carry out an addition in a way that the arithmetic operation itself will be as easy as a child’s game for everyone, since one neither needs to calculate nor realize a tens carry and one can always rely on the result to be correct.”

Using the selection keys on the front of the machine one can specify the place to which a number from 1 to 20 can be added. In order to add this number, one has to press the respective knob next to the selected number on top of the machine and turn the central top plate clockwise until it stops. The result is shown in the small circular displays of the result mechanism that can be seen through the glass cover. What makes this machine exceptional is that it is nearly completely made of wood. Even the gear wheels are made of wood! We are pleased to be able to present you this extraordinary mechanical calculator in a 3D animation by Daniel Berthold, a student of Computer Science, which he created as part of his bachelor’s thesis on the history of mechanical computing with Professor Ina Prinz. The video shows the entire construction of the machine as well as the tens carry, which Guinigi realized in a both fascinating and original way. We hope you enjoy the video!