Abraham Gancher

The Golden Gem adding machine enjoyed a long sales success through the first half of the 20th century. It was based on the Arithmachine of Heinrich Goldmann (a.k.a as Henry Goldman) from late 1890s, and on the efforts of three inventors—Abraham Gancher (a Russian Jew and emigrant to USA), Nobyoshi Hakrew Kodama (a Japanese emigrant to USA), and Albert Zabriskie.

The Golden Gem adding machine
The Golden Gem adding machine

The Golden Gem was introduced about 1907 by the Automatic Adding Machine Co. of New York, and was based not so on the first similar patent in the USA, taken by Nobyoshi Kodama (patent N. 753586, assigned one-half to Rebecca, the wife of Abraham Gancher), but on the second patent (US pat. No. 816342, taken by Kodama and Gancher). The company’s advertising in 1917 claims over 100000 had been sold by that year. At that point they cost $10 each.

The overall size of the device is 6.9 cm x 13 cm x 10 cm, and it was quite heavy, some 750 g. To operate the Golden Gem, the stylus is inserted into a link corresponding to the desired number and pulled down. As the continuous chain revolves, it advances a number wheel whose value is seen in the window at top. When a wheel revolves from 9 to 0, a tens carry mechanism automatically advances the next wheel by one. (This works well, but advancing the tens carry on multiple digits at once (e.g. from 999 to 1000) requires some extra hand strength!).

Subtraction is possible (via the nines complement method) using the red numbers shown to the right of each chain. Clearing of the result register is achieved by turning the knob at bottom right until all digits show zero.

Automatic Adding Machine Co. also produced a tally counter. It was basically the same as the Golden Gem, except it had five digits, had shorter chains, and instead of the slots in the front there was a lever on the right that incremented the units digit. Gancher also designed a version with a printing mechanism, but this was even less successful than the counter.

Biography of Abraham Gancher

It seems the main driving force behind Golden Gem and Automatic Adding Machine Co. of New York was Abraham Gancher, so let’s see what is known about him.

Abraham Isaac Gancher was a Russian Jew, born on 13 July 1875 somewhere in the Empire. He emigrated to USA in 1892 (most probably due to “pogroms” (anti-Jewish riots) that swept the southern and western provinces of the Russian Empire in 1880s), alongside his parents, Isaac (Chaim Yitzchak) Gancher (1846-1934) and Sarah (nee Berezonsky) Gancher (1850-1919), his brother Jacob (Yaakov) (1882-1958, who became a physician and surgeon), and two sisters: Lizzie Gancher-Bergman (1871-1960) and Fannie Gancher-Husinsky (1881-1966). The family initially settled at Hartford, Connecticut, but soon removed to Waterbury, Conn., where Abraham used to work as a leather salesman in late 1890s.

In 1899 Abraham Gancher married to Rebecca (b. 1876 in New York), and they had a son—Simon. Abraham Gancher became interested in adding machines a few years later and worked in this area more then ten years (he was active in the Automatic Adding Machine Company through at least 1918.) Besides the several patents for adding machines, he got also a patent for appliance for educational, amusement, and advertising purposes (US1075248). Gancher was also a small-handwriting specialist and had, apparently, procured himself a place in Ripley’s Believe it or Not by writing the Bill of Rights on a postage stamp! In 1920s Abraham worked in the family business (industrial surplus) on Broadway, but eventually lost everything in a gamble to buy a seat on the NY Exchange.

Abraham Gancher died on 1 September 1965, in New York.