• 03.14.12

The Crazily Complex Innards Of Antique Adding Machines

Kevin Twomey takes an intimate look at adding machines, which did calculations using complicated mechanical gears.

They may seem like Rube Goldberg machines today, but mechanical adding machines were considered the closest thing to computers not long ago: heaps of gears, levers, and springs engineered to do the work of a $3 calculator. The San Francisco–based photographer Kevin Twomey has produced a wonderful series of these mechanical relics, selected from a collector’s private stash.


“The community of people who collect this cumbersome, not-so-valuable, obsolete machinery is pretty small,” Twomey tells Co.Design. Nonetheless, his research quickly led him to Mark Glusker, a collector and mechanical engineer living just a few miles from the photographer’s studio who agreed to bring over a few prized pieces. “As we laid them out on tables, Mark pulled off the covers on some of the machines to show me the guts,” Twomey recalls. “Instantly I knew what this project was about: the intricate and complex inner workings of these machines.”

He used hot lights to illuminate the details: “Arri hot lights have a crispness about them, so when objects like these machines are bathed in that kind of light, they just sing,” he says. And his affection for vintage technology extends to his own choice of equipment: a Hasselblad. “I am still in love with the older Carl Zeiss lenses.”

About the author

Belinda Lanks is the editorial director of Co.Design. Before joining, she was the managing editor of Metropolis.