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The price of the arithmometer : 1998


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The price of the arithmometer


 /  By Stephen Johnston



A number of commentators noted that one of the primary disincentives to the expansion of the market for the arithmometer was its elevated price.  There is also at least one comment that the improvements that had been made had allowed the price to be reduced.  It would therefore be useful to make some sort of effort to establish what the price was at different times.


General comments on price


In the first report on the arithmometer by Francoeur, he notes his conclusion that the machine ‘sera toujours d’un prix élevé’ (1822/1920, p.661).


The 1854 Lemoyne report needs to be checked; certainly the quotes in Jacomy-Régnier show that he was saying some interesting things about how the price might be altered if it was made for very many possible purchasers.


Reuleaux (Dingler’s Journal, 165 (1862), 334-362, p. 362) says ‘Der Preis des Arithmometers ist hoch’.


An English promotional sheet of post-1862 (with ScM 1868-1 ) remarks that ‘very great reductions in the prices, have been made by the inventor, to render the instrument of a still more general use’.


The French promotional leaflet of post-1865 (repro’d in the Brunsviga catalogue?) gives no price but does say that ‘Le prix modéré de la machine à calculer varie suivant la grandeur.’


Dietzschold (presumably in his publication of 1882) apparently considered the Thomas machine as ‘sehr teuer’ (very expensive); Hartmut Petzold, Rechnende Maschinen (1985), p. 104.


Specific machine prices


1854                Lemoyne, as quoted in Jacomy-Régnier, says that a machine cost 300fr. I shall need to check what capacity he had in order to compare this with the 1856 figures of Cosmos.


1854                Report of the 24th Meeting of the British Association, September 1854 ( London , 1855).  Notes and Abstracts, p.1-2.  What was presumably an 8x0x16 machine was demonstrated and its price given as £50


1856                Cosmos 8 (1856).  The inner leaves of the cover sheets list ‘Spécialités recommandées par le Cosmos’ and include the arithmometer under ‘Instruments de Mathématiques’: 10-figure (5x0x10) 250fr, 16-figure (8x0x16) 500fr.


1862                F. Reuleaux gives the following prices

                                    5x0x10             150F

                                    6x7x12             300

                                    8x0x16             300

                                    8x9x16             400

Note that there does not appear to be any mention here of the quotient effacer which, to judge by the later listings and prices, would have been listed separately and cost more.


post-1862        English leaflet (with ScM 1868-1 )

                                    5x0x10                         £6

                                    6x7x12                         12

                                    8x0x16                         12

                                    8x9x16                         16

                                    10x11x20                     32

Note that these are prices in Paris and would therefore presumably not include shipping.  By contrast the later English leaflet of c.1872 has the same prices given for London and Paris .


1864                Prussian Statistical Office bought a 6 figure machine for 300fr (Petzold p. 106)


1865                Prussian Statistical Office bought an 8 figure machine for 500fr (Petzold p. 106)


1866                Henry Brunel paid £12 for an arithmometer (perhaps a 12-figure with quotient, since he subsequently refers to his small machine)


1867                F.A.P. Barnard purchased an 8x9x16 machine for 500fr (with single or double effacer?).  This was equivalent to $140.50, and including shipping etc the total cost was $167.89.  (Peggy Kidwell art.)


1867                Reports on the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1867 vol.2 ( London , 1868), p.255 gives the price of an 8-figure machine as £20 - presumably an 8x9x16 machine with quotient effacer.


1868                Henry Brunel bought a 16-figure machine with quotient eraser for £20.  He also ordered through Adie a 12-figure machine with quotient eraser, expecting the price to be £16


1869                Henry Brunel ordered a 16-figure with quotient effacer for £20 through Adie


1872                English leaflet gives prices in London and Paris for 7 different models:

                                    5x0x10                                                 £6

                                    6x7x12                                     12

                                    6x7x12 (with quotient effacer)   16

                                    8x0x16                                                 12

                                    8x9x16                                                 16

                                    8x9x16 (with quotient effacer)   20

                                    10x11x20 (with quotient effacer)           32

These are the same prices as the earlier English leaflet, but the quotient effacer models have been added.


c.1875             Thomas Egleston (Columbia School of Mines) bought a 10x11x20 machine which he recalled in 1892 had cost $100.  (Peggy Kidwell art.) This seems a suspiciously low figure, given that the dollar price of the smaller capacity machine bought by Barnard in 1876 was $140. Perhaps Egleston misremembered?  Depending on whether the Barnard machine has a single or double effacer, and using the English prices as a guide, we might expect Eggleston’s machine to have cost $280 or $224.


1876                Prudential purchased 10 arithmometers, 4 of the 6-figure machines @ £16 (serial no. 1452, 1455, 1457, 1458) and 6 of the 8-figure machines @ £20 (serial no. 1370-75 ).  These were presumably all with quotient effacers.


1878                Sebert (1879/1920), p.707 gives a 16-figure machine as 500fr


1878-80          Rapports des Membres des Jurys, des Délégués et des Ouvriers sur l’Exposition Universelle de Paris en 1878 publiées par la Commission Belge de l’Exposition, vol.1 (Brussels, 1880), p.403: ‘Le prix de ces appareils donnant un produit de 12 à 20 chiffres, varie de quatre à huit cents francs, somme bien peu importante quand l’on constante l’économie de temps et d’argent réalisée par leur emploi’.




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