Almost all the objects in this collection have been acquired either on the various ebay sites (French, German, Australian, US) or at auctions as an online bidder. Acquiring objects by electronic means exposes the purchaser to an interesting balance of dangers and opportunities. 1995 marked the beginning of the internet and it took more than a decade for the systems to develop and trust to build up to a point that people would consider buying “online”. Now, it is boom time for the business.

There are a host of dangers associated with doing online purchasing. First you may not get anything! Second, what you get may not be as described. And third you may be just plain wrong about what it was anyway! A couple of objects purchased fit this mold although, generally speaking, amazingly, almost everything was exactly as described and arrived in good time, well packed, and with very nice conversation (variously in English, French, German or Italian) with the seller. This even goes for what, to be clear, is a definitely genuine Thomas de Colmar Arithmometer which I acquired at auction from the UK auction house, Bonhams. It was not cheap, but then a good one comes on the market once every several years. I was only prepared to bid after much reassuring interchange, additional photos, and tests of the machine preformed by the expert staff member in Bonhams who has been the midwife for many an arithmometer passing hands. However, one does not always have this luxury.

So on to the failures. The worst was a Walther-160 calculating machine - not the one shown in the collection now. I wanted a good one, and the photo in ebay was immaculate. When it arrived it was badly packed, broken, and in any case not the machine in the photo. It was dirty, paint missing, and essentially useless for the purpose. Luckily it was also very cheap. The photo, I managed to show, was from a machine in a museum! I used the Paypal/ebay complaint procedure and after much mucking around they agreed I had been cheated. However, their solution, which was all that they would allow, was that I send the machine back, and they would refund the seller’s money. As the cost of postage would be more than the value of the machine I still have it, and he still has his money. Nevertheless when the good one did finally arrive, unusually it had broken its handle in transit. So I was able to use the spare part from the other one to end up with one fully complete machine!

The second failure is that of hope overshadowing reality. A device described as a “Kalender, Rechenschieber” was advertised on the German site. It looked like an astrolabe, to my not yet very educated eye, although a very crude one. So I bought it, on the possibility it might be real, and with the reassuring knowledge that it did not cost very much to either buy or send. As it turns out, it is a (maybe old) fake. The crudeness was not as a result of it being primitive, but being made by someone who didn’t really know what you need for it to work. Still it looks interesting and has some of the features - but you would be going to actually identify specific stars, let alone find the necessary scales or indeed the fairly essential pin hole sights on the alidade. It is inscribed in the ancient Jawi script from Malaysia. It can be seen here. I keep it as a curiosity and as a reminder that in any case, it was fun and an education to do the chase!

Page last modified on 07 April 2014