Rather large missed opportunity - a pile of HP71B's


I was talking to a friend the other day, reminiscing about the 1990's and we bumped into an interesting memory regarding a large pile of HP-71B's and an utterly missed opportunity and a good discovery.

I was at a radio fair in the UK (Enfield Lock, North London) in about 1994/5 and in the middle of a table was a massive pile of working HP-71B's with barcode wand and a memory pack. There were at least 50 of them piled up, tangled in knots.

These were priced at £1 each ($1.52 current exchange rate). My friend and myself grabbed one each - couldn't refuse it for that money.

These were played with at the time for a bit (we had no Internet access back then to do any research or find any documentation) and relatively quickly forgotten and stashed in our piles of acquired junk along with blown up BBC micros and piles of de-soldered electronic components. Yes we both did EE!

This little conversation with my friend inspired us to make a couple of calls to parents who both have all our old stuff dumped upon them and in storage waiting for us to eventually dig it all up. Lo and behold, some complaining and digging revealed an HP-71B which unfortunately appears to be royally dead. My friend's was a no show as his parents are less patient than mine and disposed of all of his junk. I am going to pick mine up in a couple of weeks and see if I can resurrect it after nearly 20 years of no attention.

Anyway, back to the original point I was going to make; does anyone know why there would be a large pile of HP-71B's in the surplus market in the UK? I can't find any references to usage of that scale anywhere. From memory there were no programs on the device and there was a RAM pack and that is all.

I will admit to regretting not buying the entire pile considering their second hand value now!

Edit: just tripped over the HP-71B article on Wikipedia. It appears that these might have been DHSS data collection for UK government.

Edited: 18 Apr 2013, 5:43 p.m.


I believe I had heard the UK postal system had used them in the past. I would suspect that is where they came from.


It was the British Social Security system that used them for a while.

In each office, every desk had an HP-71B with a program module and a barcode wand, all connected by HP-IL to a central unit. As the (paper) social security files for people were taken from a file store, each person in the office to have the file would scan a barcode on its front. The HP-71B would then tell the central computer where the file was in the office. This allowed real-time tracking of the files around an office, as they went from one desk to another, and finally back to the filing store.

This needed a lot of HP-71Bs, and when the system was upgraded, they turned up in various places. Some went back to Zengrange, who had set up the system, but many others went to various places were they were sold at very low prices.


Thanks for reply - interesting stuff.

Hope I can get this one working again!

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