Wenhua Mechanical Calculators
Last year of production

by Wj Wang


It was in 1979 that I saw the electronic calculator for the first time. But I do not remember it was before or after my entrance to the college, and naturally I forgot where I saw the little magic box that made many Chinese people curious at that time. One particular scene, on TV, however, is so remarkable and impressive to me that I still see it as it happened yesterday.

It was on a news program, on CCTV, on 19:00 as usual, the interviewed was an aged professor, maybe a top ranking scientist, working in the Nanjing Observatory. The slim and calm old man was talking slowly to a hidden microphone in front of his desk, but I heard nothing because something on his desk caught my attention immediately: it was a small, black machine in size similar to a pocket dictionary, or a little bit smaller than a GPS of second generation. I could recognize that it was a calculator, of luminescent diodes with a power supply line. The machine was so mysterious to me that I recalled my curiosity and impulse I once experienced when I saw the different pistal or revolvers of my father and his fellows in my childhood.

It was around 1978.

The year of 1978 has to be mentioned because it was very important, not only to me, but also to the Chinese mechanical calculators.

Among all the Wenhua machines I have, this one is the latest built, as shown on the next picture:

Machine S. No.: 4972
Brand: Wenhua (Culture in Chinese)
Model: BSL - 201
Made in: Tianjin, China
Production years: 1957 - 1979
Machine built: July, 1979
Size of machine in mm:

     Base: 238 X 168
     Width: 370;  428 when working.
     Depth: 193
     Height: 132

 Weight: 5,826g
 Capacity: 10 X 10 X 20



The machine is almost complete. Almost. But not original anymore: its ex-owner took all the paint off from its cover and the cover of the car, probably for its very poor outlook conditions.

I know that a model of O. Odhner sold exclusively in GB was also like this, without paint on the cover and the cover of its car. But this Wenhua's ex-owner certainly did it for another reason, maybe with the inspiration from the O.O.

The machine works well, without presenting any problem. You can even see, on the photo, that the trail of the decimal indicator is almost perfect, and it is not very common on the Wenhua machines found in market nowadays.

It was on July, 1979, that the machine was released from the line of production. For a rather long time, I believed that this machine was one of the last mechanical calculators ever made by the human beings in its history, until recently a fellow collector told me that Facit was produced up to 1981.

After many trials, I failed to found any prove of the cease production of this machine. For an office machine which production had lasted for more than 20 years, and its users were mainly typical intellectuals, a kind of up class of then China, the destiny seems not very suitable to it. Or it does not deserve it, I think.  

That is why I always trying to find a machine with a rather complete plate, where the year of production is shown. From the point of view of research, it represents the actual and concrete evidence, thus is convincible.

I strongly incline to the view that 1979 was the last year of Wenhua's production for another reason: around that year, many calculators with transistor or diode were invading the market, followed by the innumerous kinds of calculators with chips. So the curtain were closing, not only to Wenhua, but also to all kinds of mechanical calculators.

In India it might be an exception, maybe as well as in Brazil. I believe that the Facit, to be exactly, C-13,  could survive for a longer time because of the very low buying power in those countries then. No market demand for better machine contributes to the longer survival of C-13. At least it is the case in Brazil. I have almost no doubt, that in India it must be the same. I am also confident that the last machines released from the line in India were also C-13.

This Wenhua machine with S. No. 14972 is now leaving me. It will be on its way for a remote place, following the route of Marco Polo on his way home. I wish it would be welcome there.

But do you really believe the Venezia-born guy once came to China?


Wj Wang
Beijing - China

Copyright @2010 WJ Wang

November, 2010

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