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Sharp Elsi-Mate EL-120

The Sharp Elsi-Mate EL-120 appeared in 1973, and it was made in Japan. It's a bit different: as you can see, it's laid out sideways rather than top-to bottom, and it has a few quirks I'll tell you about below.

top view of the Sharp Elsi-Mate EL-120 with its screen displaying the numbers 1 2 3

It's 64mm high by 170mm wide, and 20mm thick. It takes three AA batteries, which are inserted end-to-end in the back. It turns on and off by a sliding switch on the left side of the device.

This was a budget model, so the first quirk I'll discuss is that tiny but unfaded vacuum fluorescent display: it's only three characters long. Of course, if it were just that it wouldn't do anyone a lot of good - but it scrolls, one page at a time. That switch labeled A and M switches between automatic and manual scrolling, and in effect that little screen is as good as any eight character specimen. But it isn't, because it's fiddly... but it's cheap, and that was the point.

Now, look at that first picture. Do you perhaps see that little wedge at the bottom? Whatever could that be? Here it is shown more clearly:

top/front view of the device, showing its COUNT button

It says "COUNT", because it's a counter! This calculator, with its funky shape, could be used as a funky digital counter. It has the silly side effect that if you've calculated something you can add 1 to your answer by the press of a button if you so desire.

hand holding the device, thumb hovering over the COUNT button

I'm sure it was helpful to someone.

This device, or perhaps I should say contraption, has one final quirk: a ruler.

bottom of the device, showing the ruler and spec list

Just because they could, I suppose.

For being one of the oldest calculators in my collection, this one is engineered to a "T" in a way that is typical of 70s engineering: adding functionality and versatility where possible, creating tools rather than commodities. The screen is a bit of a drawback, of course, but the historian in me loves it for the thought that's gone into it.

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