The Abacus and the Numeral FrameEarly Use of the Numeral Frame
Various forms of the abacus have been and still are used in arithmetic teaching. From the late 1830s, many American schools purchased numeral frames. These demonstration devices had one or more wires strung with beads that moved crosswise, as on a Russian abacus. The instrument apparently developed independently in France and in England, and was brought to the US from both countries. Teachers used numeral frames to introduce young students to counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication and fractions.
"The Abacus and the Numeral Frame - Early Use of the Numeral Frame" showing 1 items.
- This object combines two common tools of 19th-century American teaching: the slate and the teaching abacus or numeral frame. Both the piece of black slate and the wires of the numeral frame fit in a wooden framework. There are two rows of wooden beads, with ten beads in each row. The beads are painted in the colors of the spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue). The unsigned and undated instrument was given to the Museum in 1975.
- In the 1870s and 1880s, at least three Americans took out patents for combination slates and abaci. Freeman D’Ossone of Philadelphia proposed a slate with a row of nine numbered beads that moved up and down on a wire in a frame with the slate (US Patent 119,332, dated September 26, 1871). The beads shown in the patent description are spherical.
- Henry Stewart of Erie, Pa., proposed an abacus attachment for school slates that fit atop the slate and had two rows of beads with ten beads in each row. The beads are slightly flattened (US Patent 217,749, dated February 6, 1883).
- Charlotte Francis Roddey of New York City proposed an “abacus for slates” in which a single row of 25 spherical beads fit into the frame of an abacus (US Patent 339933, dated April 13, 1886). None of these inventions precisely matches this object. It seems likely, however, that this slate with numeral frame dates from about the same period.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- ca 1890
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- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center