Life insurance companies use mortality tables to estimate risks; based on these risks, they are able to appropriately price their policies. In the early days of life insurance, tools already existed to estimate such risks, however the invention of a mechanical calculator made the lives of actuaries much easier.
Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar (1785-1870) was a French engineer. In 1820, he invented the first arithmometer, one of the first known mechanical calculators, Following this first model, a smaller and improved version was introduced in 1855 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. The calculator could add, subtract, and perform long multiplications. From 1855 to 1915 the arithmometer was sold all over the world.
The historical collection of NN is home to a very unique arithmometer, personalised with calligraphic letters on the wooden top; ‘Arithmomêtre der Nationale Levensverzekering-Bank’. All arithmometers have a unique serial number, and the one in our collection is inscribed with the. number 1436. We know it is made in 1876 thanks to an extensive website that matches serial numbers to date of production. Unfortunately, we do not have any further information on the purchase and the way it was used in those days.
In the Netherlands, there are only three museums with a arithmometer in their collection.