Suan-p'an, or Chinese Abacus (Double)

This double abacus has a wooden frame with 25 columns of wooden beads which slide on bamboo rods. It apparently was designed for use by two people at once. Each rod has 14 beads. A relatively thick wooden cross piece down the center divides the beads into groups of seven. Two thinner cross pieces divide the groups of seven into groups of two and five.
Metal brackets hold the instrument together at the corner, with two wooden supports at the back. Holes drilled at one end hold loops of green plastic twine that are held together with a small metal ring and allow the instrument to be mounted on a wall.
The three characters carved on the center of the cross piece represent general words such as “happiness” or “wisdom.” The loops and the orientation of the characters suggest that the instrument was sold as much as a wall ornament as a practical device.
The donor received the abacus as a gift from Simon Newman, Deputy Director of Research and Development of the U.S. Patent Office. Mr. Newman died in 1985. He had traveled in Hong Kong.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
metal (overall material)
bamboo (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
overall: 3.7 cm x 31.6 cm x 68.8 cm; 1 15/32 in x 12 7/16 in x 27 3/32 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Science & Mathematics
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Rose Sachs

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