So what about calculators collecting? (part 1: self-pity)

Everybody needs a calculator or two hundreds don’t they? No? Oh, maybe it’s just me then.

At it happens, I am not the only one, so I feel slightly reassured by the fact that my disease is not unknown, that I am not the only sufferer, that it is recognised, and actually internationally shared.

Let me state my case: back when I was a spotty 16 years old high-school student, I managed to acquire an HP-41CV. That won’t mean anything to most of you, but it was a programmable calculator, one of the best at the time, an extremely (relatively) expensive Hewlett-Packard model. It wasn’t my first programmable calculator – I had had a TI-57 (from Texas Instruments; its entry-level model) for a few years; but it was my first serious one. It was more a computer than a calculator, really (and was marketed that way), and it was the bee’s knees, übercool, nerd-tool extraordinaire; it impressed my class-mates and helped me through school.

A couple of years later, I started engineering school, and needed something beefier. I would have been happy to keep my 41CV and expand it, but HP was very expensive, and I didn’t have the means. So I sold my 41CV (sob!) and with the proceeds bought the latest Casio model, with a plotter, tape drive, lots more memory, a qwerty keyboard, BASIC programming, and a 160×32 pixel screen – “whoa!” – yes, I know!  That machine, a PB-700, is still fully functional and in excellent shape.

Not asleep yet? Ok… It was the early eighties, the “calculator war” was on, technology was progressing by leaps and bounds (as it still does), whatever. Thing is, I always regretted parting with my HP-41CV…  Many years later, in early 2008, I was idly wondering (now that money was no object) if I could get “back” my HP-41CV, and who knows, maybe buy the “accessories” this time (card reader, wand, printer, plotter, software modules, RAM…). Could I? Oh yeaaaah!! Hurray for eBay!

So I got an HP-41CV.
… I wondered about a spare (in case things went wrong), so I got a spare.
… I bought accessories (which are many and varied), with spares.
… I also found the next model, the HP-41CX, and bought one, and a spare. And a spare for the spare.
… I also got to musing about other HP models that had fascinated me back then, or that I didn’t know about then and fascinated me now, so I got them too. With spares.

Before you could say “calculator”, I had become a collector, and the subject of major ribbing at the office (where I got things delivered). I was as a magpie to a piece of glass, a seagull to an ice-cream cone on a windy seafront, a dung beetle to a … er, well, you get the picture.

The problem is that, as far as mid-life crises go, this may be less physically dangerous than taking up motorbike riding, but this is actually risky in other ways: expensive, addictive, vast; and the amused tolerance that greeted me at the beginning turned into an scowl.

I do have at least 300 calculators  (I lost count a long time ago) and also a few computers. Some are more antique than others, some are working and others not. They are from Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments, Casio, Sharp, Canon, to name just a few of the main manufacturers.

The result is a mess: boxes everywhere, heaps growing in corners, dust all over the place; I would often buy a box full of stuff just for one piece of kit. I have duplicates, triplicates, quadriplicates, multiplicates. I’ve also got printers, RAMs, ROMs, cards, packs, pacs, wands, tapes, rolls, pads, modules, cables, styluses, reams, pouches, cartridges, sleeves, CDs, floppies, overlays, drives, chargers, cases, DVDs, ribbons, a stockpile of NiCd batteries, and a Macintosh Classic. I’ve got books, manuels, leaflets, flyers. I’ve got repair kits, pliers, tweezers, solvents. My oldest calculator is from 1974; my youngest from 2013. I’ve got VFD, LED, LCD, CRT.

My resolve, some years ago, was to stop the silliness and get organised. Now finally, I’ve started – earlier in the summer. It is slow going, but I am making progress – I have done all the calculators from HP except the 41C ones. As things stand, that’s probably about 20% of my stock sorted out. Later on, I will put back on eBay all the machines that I’ve decided to part with.

One of the good things about collecting, no matter what you collect, is that you meet people: I’ve been in touch with enthusiasts, experts, amateurs, from all over the world. It’s a very dynamic world, very lively, very friendly.

Are old calculators dead? Far from it.
Am I a bad case? Oh no, no, no: some people I know have thousands of calculators… and you thought I was bad 😉

About Philippe Lasnier

A French- and British-educated professional software engineer with over 33 years of broad experience and a solid history of developing high-quality software for large and small companies across a range of applications and different industries; particularly experienced in C, C++; the development of middleware, internal components, core code, and APIs; solo, in a team, or as lead of small teams. Recognised for high-quality development, great attention to detail, keen analytic and investigative skills. Bilingual, English and French, just in case you were wondering. Philippe currently works for Spirent Communications, but in any case, the opinions here are his own.
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2 Responses to So what about calculators collecting? (part 1: self-pity)

  1. Mark Anstice says:

    In all seriousness, I was rather touched to find an HP 35s on my desk one morning – and for that I’m truly grateful.

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