Brunsviga’s Nova II was first released in 1925. The latest of the company’s line of pinwheel calculators, it featured a rather large desktop presence with an overall width of 14", and it weighed a relatively immovable 26.7 lbs. There were several different Nova models, but the Nova II was the most successful, selling about 10,000 units over its nine-year production run. Digits on the displays are controlled by three hand cranks on the right side that set digits over a full 15 places. The register is at the top, and it has a full tens transfer mechanism. Shutters slide to select the side-by-side entries. A crank is also used to select the desired mathematical function. To clear results, there is a clearing lever on the rear of the left side, which does more than return results to zero. Pulled forward and released, it will clear the register. A back-transfer is accomplished when you pull the clearing lever, and, with the other hand, pull the adjacent back-transfer lever forward. This action transfers the current result from the accumulator back to the setting levers to become the starting point of the next calculation. Brunsviga calculators were made into the 1950s.


Accepted by many as the first commercially successful portable microcomputer, the Osborne 1 was created by Adam Osborne and Lee Felsenstein in the spring of 1981. The laptop cost $1,795, and it weighed 24.5 lbs. That’s about the weight of 18 of the new 13" iPad Pros, which are currently serving as laptops. There are no batteries as this portable requires a wall plug, and the screen is a squint-inducing 5" monochrome. The Osborne’s memory was limited to two single-sided floppy disk drives that could hold 90K per disk. Double-sided disks and drives were available but weren’t used because the heads were more liable to damage from moving around and impacts. InfoWorld did point out, however, a major bonus was that the software that came with the Osborne 1 was worth $1,500 and included WordStar word processing, SuperCalc spreadsheets, BASIC, and the CP/M operating system with all of its utilities. No wonder it had a 500-page manual.


Microsoft Excel was preceded by two other electronic spreadsheet programs (see Tech Forum), and the company’s Multiplan spreadsheet program first appeared in 1982 after VisiCalc and SuperCalc. Originally code-named “EP” for Electronic Paper, it was Microsoft’s first piece of commercial application software. Written by Douglas Klunder in the new application software group, it was designed to run on MS-DOS, CP/M, and the Apple II. By September 1985, Multiplan sales exceeded one million copies, which brought it even with the totals for VisiCalc. That same year, new spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3 eclipsed Multiplan as it gained dominance of the IBM PC market. Next for Microsoft was Excel 1.0.


The most recognizable of the retro tools presented here is the HP 12C programmable financial calculator, first introduced 38 years ago, the same year of the first IBM personal computer. Wikipedia begins its entry about the classic device with a testimonial. “The HP 12C is Hewlett Packard’s longest and best-selling product, in continual production since its introduction in 1981.” Alongside the other digital antiques on the page here, the HP 12C is powerful, diverse in its applications, and weighs almost nothing in your hand. The fact that the HP 12C Platinum is still available and listed in the HP online store for a modest $79.98 puts it apart from almost all computers.

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