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          A curious Hybrid


    Here we have three calculators, arrayed for a formal family photo.

    At the top is an honored ancient device, the Japanese Abacus, or Soroban. At bottom right, an electronic hand-held calculator, once a marvel of modern technology. And at bottom left is a... a what? Is it some kind of a joke?!...

Three calculators
    No, not a joke. This is actually a real product from the seventies, the Sharp Elsi Mate EL-8048 (Sharp branded its calculators "Elsi Mate". Elsi was actually an acronym, meaning Extra Large Scale Integration, an attempt by Sharp to coin a name for the chips that the rest of the world would simply call LSI).
    I have almost no information about this bizarre hybrid, but can surmise that it was produced to facilitate the acceptance of electronic calculators among Japanese storekeepers, who were quite content with their Sorobans (and could use them with extreme dexterity and speed).
Hybrid calculator
Click photo to enlarge
    The idea seems to have been that by providing a combo unit that permitted addition on the traditional device while giving the advantage of faster multiplication and division on the electronic part, resistance to the new invention would erode. There must have been relatively few of these made, perhaps experimentally; the serial number on the back of mine is 183, and it's printed in ink on a rudimentary paper sticker... hardly evidence of mass production.

Exhibit provenance:
    I was given this surprising find by a friend who had sighted it in a trash can during a visit to Japan. Apparently some shopkeeper decided he can now make do without the beads... or perhaps without the electronic device?

More info:
    - A similar unit in different colors can be seen at photocalcul.com.

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