Curta Type 1 Mechanical Calculator  
Written by AnubisTTP on 2021-11-25  



The Curta, manufactured by Contina AG Mauren in Liechtenstein, is widely considered to be the smallest 4-function mechanical calculator in the world. Produced in both eight and eleven digit versions, the Curta is held upon an almost mythical pedestal by calculator and computer collectors, due to its war-torn origin story and intricate mechanical construction. It's inventor, Curt Herzstark, began design work on the Curta in the 1930s, but was captured by Nazi Germany and imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp before the calculator could be manufactured. Curt Herzstark was forced to trade the plans for the Curta to the to the Buchenwald camp administrators in exchange for his own life. Nazi Germany never manufactured the device however, and after Buchenwald was liberated by the Allies in 1945, Curt Herzstark partnered with the Prince of Liechtenstein and was able to put the Curta into production. The heart of the Curta is a central stepped drum, which contains teeth representing each decimal digit. In operation input sliders on the outside of the device enable the output register to be interfaced with the stepped drum at various points, allowing addition to be preformed by rotating the crank attached to the top of the stepped drum. Controls on the Curta's shell allow the drum and output register to be manipulated in various ways to facilitate four function math. The unique combination of size and function made Curta a commercial success, and approximately 140,000 units were produced over the product's 20 year lifespan.

Despite it's ample production run, the Curta has been a highly-sought collectors item for decades. At a time in the past when calculator collecting was still in it's infancy, Curtas were already commanding 4 digit prices on Ebay. High-value Curta collecting was even a major plot point in the 2003 novel Pattern Recognition, in which the protagonist was forced to trade a low-serial number Curta for access to a global spy network. So many collectors have been priced out of the market for a Curta that in 2016, a maker named Marcus Wu designed a version of the Curta that can be printed on a 3D printer. Limitations of 3D printer technology force the Marcus Wu Curta to be printed a 3 times the size of an original, but the print is otherwise fully mechanically functional, and for most people represents the only realistic option to obtain one of these unusual calculators for themselves.


Curta Type 1 Mechanical Calculator
Curta type 1 mechanical calculator, at rest.

Curta Model 1 Mechanical Calculator
The output of the Curta is viewed through small windows located on the top of the device.

Curta Mechanical Calculator case
The Curta came with a protective cylindrical carrying case, which opened by unscrewing into two halves.

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