Schwilgué's large adding machine
(to be on display at the Bonn Arithmeum from May to October 2015)
29 March 2015.
The picture above gives a glimpse of a large adding machine constructed
by Jean-Baptiste Schwilgué (1776-1856), the author of the third
astronomical clock (1838-1843)
of the Strasbourg cathedral. This machine will be part of an upcoming exhibition
at the Arithmeum in Bonn from May to October 2015. Here, I merely want
to give some context about the rediscovery of this machine, circumstances
which are not known to those who examined this machine since December 2014.
- This adding machine is only very little known, and no photographs of
it have been published prior to 2014, although a number of people have seen it.
- I first learned about this machine in 1988, but I only tried to locate
it around 2002, at the same time as I tried to locate other mechanisms,
such as an adding machine patented in 1844. (see "An Early (1844) Key-Driven Adding Machine", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 59-65, January-March 2008)
These machines had been stored in the Strasbourg museums, but little
was known of what happened to them since WWII, and there were even
doubts about their existence.
- In 2006, I became one of the founders of the committee overseeing
Schwilgué's astronomical clock, and this may have helped raise some
interest in some of the museums in Strasbourg.
- In 2007, after having found it through an online catalogue made
by the ETH Zürich, I examined the small adding machine located there,
and it was used to illustrate the article published on this machine.
- In early 2009, a curator of one of the Strasbourg museums happened
to locate the above pictured machine in a cellar, and I was immediately
notified. Some time later, the machine was made accessible for study.
- I examined, studied and completely analyzed the machine in early
July 2009. A comprehensive report was then written, but not made public.
It could have been made public in 2009, but I decided not to, for a number
of very good reasons.
- In early January 2014, I suggested to the curator of the Strasbourg
historical museum to move this machine from its temporary location
(where it had been since 2009) to the historical museum, for better storage.
This suggestion was accepted a few months later.
- In late January 2014, a Swiss retired computer scientist
independently noticed Schwilgué's small adding machine in the collection
of scientific instruments at ETH Zürich. This led him
to the article I published in 2008, the first article describing this machine
in detail, and the first article to highlight one of its key features,
and also the first to relate it to the Schilt machine.
(This article was sent in 2008 to
the curator of the ETH collection, but somehow it did not attract much
- My article, in turn, led him to Strasbourg, and
it is there that he saw the large adding machine in the storage of
the historical museum, on December 9, 2014.
At that point, the curators - who were aware of my prior work - did not
inform the Swiss computer scientist of my work.
In any case, the machine did not ``surface'' at that time, and it could
only be seen at the historical museum because I had asked the museum
to move it from its previous location.
- Starting in December 2014, the Swiss computer scientist
published a number of notes about that machine, discarding
the priority of my research, and eager to put his own mark on it.
- After that Swiss computer scientist,
the machine was examined by other persons,
in particular in March 2015 by Dr. Ina Prinz, curator of the Arithmeum in Bonn.
This examination was probably triggered by the first visit, but also by an
article published by Andreas Stiller in the German c't magazine,
after contacts with the Swiss computer scientist. In any case, at some point
it was decided to lend this machine, as well as Schwilgué's
small adding machines (of which the Strasbourg museums have several) to
the Arithmeum, for a temporary exhibition to be held from May to October
2015 on the topic of "Clockmakers and calculating machines".
- As a consequence of this exhibition, and the intentional
publicity caused by the Swiss computer scientist, it is likely
that a detailed description of the machine will be published, by the
Arithmeum, or by other people interested
in this machine. This is all fine, except that although I did not publish
on this machine, I wish that my first examination and analysis
of the machine be recognized. On the other hand, I have to admit that
it is difficult to recognize the work of a person without having
seen any of it!
- I could right away put a complete description of the machine online,
and this would once and for all settle the matter of anteriority.
But I have decided not to publish that way. Instead, in order not
to lose my claims to the anteriority of a complete description
of Schwilgué's large adding machine, I have done the following:
Again, I could publish right away, but I prefer not to do so,
and I accept that others, who were not the first ones to study this machine
and who were led to the machine through my earlier work,
will publish descriptions of it first.
- I have decided to deposit my work in several sealed packages.
One of these packages
(pli cacheté) is kept by the
French Academy of Sciences,
and these packages might be used in the future in order to sort out
claims about the anteriority of a complete description of the machine.
- I have also decided to release my work, but in an encrypted form.
My work is available here (binary file).
In the future,
I intend to release the method to read this file, so that everybody
can then verify my anteriority.
- Finally, a detailed description of the machine has been submitted
8 April 2015: According to the curator of the Strasbourg historical
museum, the machine will be sent to the Arithmeum on April 16,
and the Arithmeum will take care of its restoration.
10 April 2015: Although I still do not intend to release a full
documentation of the machine (available above in encrypted form),
I have decided to make available a concise but complete summary
of the machine:
29 April 2015: The French Academy of Sciences has accepted, on April 16,
my sealed package describing Schwilgué's machine, and it has been
stored under the number 18103. This package may be opened
by the Academy after 100 years, or by myself, or my heirs.
1 May 2015: The Arithmeum exhibition is now announced (English version).
27 May 2015: Some cosmetic improvements to the above text were made today.
3 December 2015: The first part of an article describing
Schwilgué's machine in detail was just published:
The Arithmeum exhibition appears to have been extended
until January 16, 2016.
27 February 2016: The second part of an article describing
Schwilgué's machine in detail was just published:
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