Suan-p'an, or Chinese Abacus

This instrument has an open wooden frame held together with brass nails passing through metal bands. A wooden cross bar holds 13 columns of beads. Each column has two beads above the crossbar and five beads below. The beads are rounded, as on other Chinese abaci. There are no marks by a maker.
This form of abacus was sold in combination with a book entitled Abacus Arithmetic by the Australian-born metallurgist, Stanford University graduate, and later Stanford professor of metallurgy Welton J. Crook (1886-1976). Crook became fascinated with the abacus on a visit to Hong Kong, and resolved to publish a clear exposition on the instrument in English. His short book was published in 1958 by Pacific Books in Palo Alto, California, and sold tens of thousands of copies. For a copy of this paperback, see 1989.0709.03. The abacus and the related book were given to the Smithsonian by Washington, D. C., clockmaker Elton L. Howe in 1989.
On Crook, see: Stanford University Faculty Memorials, “Memorial Resolution Welton J. Crook (1886-1976)," digitized by the Stanford Historical Society .
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
brass (overall material)
overall: 2 cm x 28.6 cm x 14 cm; 25/32 in x 11 1/4 in x 5 1/2 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Elton L. Howe
Additional Media

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