Curta Type II Handheld Mechanical Calculator
The Curta. To those who are familiar with old mechanical calculating equipment, the name brings to mind thoughts of high precision machining, extreme mechanical design, and, to those who've been lucky enough to use one, the wonderful feel of the mechanism in operation. To those unknowing, seeing a Curta for the first time, impressions range from a high-tech pencil-sharpener, a 'personal' pepper-grinder, or some weird kind of high-tech fishing reel.
The Curta calculator is a marvel of mechanical engineering. Into this somewhat odd-looking, but wonderfully comfortable to hold device, is packed the mechanical equivalent of today's handheld four-function electronic calculator. The Curta can add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and in the hands of an experienced operator, can do so at surprising speeds.
Curta calculators were produced between 1947 and sometime in the very early '70's. The machine was designed by Curt Herzstark during World War II, and once the war ended, Contina Ltd., in Mauren, Liechtenstein began producing the machines. Curtas were sold at camera shops and business machine stores through the early '70's, or could be purchased direct through a US distributor. The Curta machines today have developed almost a cult following, with an avid base of collectors, and recently, via internet auction sites such as eBay, rapidly escalating value, with a recent prime-condition Curta selling for over $1700. Curta calculators gained a real following in road-rally competitions, where their small size, high speed, and ease of use made them almost indispensable for rally navigators to use to calculate the right speeds for drivers to maintain to hit the leg times of rally courses as closely as possible. Originally, Curtas were very popular with civil engineers, surveyors, and those who had to do 'math on the run'.
Two different models of the Curta were produced. The Type I, the first introduced, has a result capacity of up to 11 digits, and the later (beginning production in 1954) Type II, which generates results to 15 digits.
To learn much more about the Curta, I suggest taking a visit to the Curta Reference area of Rick Furr's exceptional "The Calculator Reference"site.