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Item 3026 - Charles Babbage Autograph Letter Signed Catalog 536 (Sep 2018)

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Description


Pioneering British mathematician and mechanical engineer (1791-1871) whose Difference Engine and Analytical Engine are generally acknowledged as the first programmable computers. Important ALS signed “C. Babbage,” one page, 4.5 x 7, May 19, 1868. Letter to "Mr. Waugh," in full: "Many thanks for your kind invitation to Oxford. The state of my health and the absorbing demands of the Analytical Engine put it out of my power to leave London even for a few days." In fine condition, with two old tape stains to the left edge.

Babbage first proposed the Analytical Engine in 1837, envisioning it as a mechanical general-purpose computer programmed by punch cards, incorporating an arithmetic logic unit, control flow in the form of conditional branching and loops, and integrated memory. Despite years of attempts—as evidenced in this letter, written more than thirty years after the Analytical Engine’s conception—Babbage was never able to actually complete the unit, largely due to the extraordinary complexity of the machine, conflicts with his chief engineer, and woefully inadequate funding. Nevertheless, Babbage’s Analytical Engine stands as an enormously innovative, important first step in the history of modern computing. To our knowledge, this is the only letter directly mentioning the Analytical Engine that exists in private hands.

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