Search Loci: Convergence:
The first nonabsolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up.
Life, the Universe and Everything. New York: Harmony Books, 1982.
A Very Brief History of Counting Boards
Surfaces marked with lines were used for calculation with counters since antiquity and the early printed arithmetics commonly show illustrations of them being used.
From Jakob Koebel's Rechenbiechlin, Augsburg, 1514
The practice of using a table dedicated for the purpose continued in northern Europe long after it had died out in favour of written methods elsewhere in Europe; the table in Strasbourg appears to be as late as the end of the 16th century. My suspicion that the Strasbourg table is a rare surviving example is strengthened by the fact that it is the only one used to illustrate counting tables in Pullan's History of the Abacus.
There must have been many hundreds of these tables at one time, in which case it is surprising not to find any remaining. Admittedly the Strasbourg example comes from a former Merchants' House where the wealth of the guilds is still evident. Furthermore, the lines are not cut into the surface but are made with inlaid ivory and so the table would have been thought worth preserving.
Does any reader know of other examples?
Musee de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame, Strasbourg
J. M. Pullan, History of the Abacus, ch. IV, Hutchinson, London: 1968
D. E. Smith, History of Mathematics, vol. II, Dover, New York: 1953
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Counting boards used in colonial Jamestowne, VA
I saw a drawing of a counting board at Jamestowne, VA. It mentioned that Jettsons were used to track the transactions. Further stated that Arabic numerals were in very limited use at that time.