"Our Tools of Learning" : George Arthur Plimpton's Gifts to Columbia University

Mathematics > Page 3

Trattato d’Aritmetica Mercantile

Manuscript book on paper

Florence, Italy, mid 16th century

Plimpton MS 219

This splendid volume contains the arms of its first owner, and was later owned by Prince Baldassare Boncompagni Ludovisi (1821-1894) before being acquired by Mr. Plimpton. The text contains problems of practical arithmetic, for example: three partners from Messina en route by boat to Leghorn, forced to throw part of their cargo overboard in a storm, having invested differing amounts of money in the enterprise; and, shown here, determining the number of tiles needed for the floor of a room.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


A Geometrical Practical Treatize Named Pantometria, Diuided into Three Bookes, Longimetra, Planimetra, and Stereometria, Containing Rules Manifolde for Mensuration of All Lines, Superficies and Solides: with Sundrie Strange Conclusions Both by Instrument and Without

London: Printed by Abell Jeffes, 1591

Plimpton 526.9 1591 D56 (STC 6859)

Leonard Digges learned of the work of Peter Apianus, Oronce Fine, and Gerhard Mercator through his friend, the greatest book-collector, scholar, and scientist of Elizabethan England, John Dee. Digges drew heavily on Apianus’s Instrument buch to describe the three indispensable instruments for the surveyor in his book entitled Tectonicon. They were: the geometric square, the carpenter’s square, and the cross staff. In this book, Pantometria, he described two new instruments, the theodolite, and the topographical, a composite instrument that combined all the known surveying principles of the day.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton

Instructions for operating an astronomical clock with an armillary sphere Manuscript book on parchment

Germany, 17th century

Plimpton MS 217

The instructions in the present booklet may seem part of a do-it-yourself project, especially since they are written in a hurried everyday script. The careful pen-and-ink drawings, on the other hand, are executed with extraordinary care, and most of them are on sheets that fold out beyond the small rectangle of the book to allow for fuller development of the design.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton

حيدر بن عبد الرحمن الجزري [Ḥaydar b. ʻAbd al-Raḥmān al-Jazarī]

رسالة في العمل بالاسطرلاب [Treatise concerning the use of the astrolabe]

Arabic MS, paper, colophon sigend by ʻAbd Allāh al-Bukhārī, dated Jumādā II 19, 1138/February 22, 1726, (Iraq?)

Oriental Manuscripts 284

Several undated manuscript copies of this work about the astrolabe are extant, though nothing is known about its author and the incipit does not provide a specific title. In this copy the ten chapters of the treatise are followed by a concise commentary. The page layout of the opening pages shows that the scribe expected the addition of an illuminated headpiece, because the work begins mid-page with the invocation of God (basmala). The manuscript’s wide margins were purposefully designed to provide the reader with sufficient space for their own notes and comments.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


A New and Complete System of Arithmetic, Composed for the Use of the Citizens of the United States

Newbury-Port, Mass.: Printed and Sold by John Mycall, 1788

Plimpton A511 1788 P63 c.1

Nicholas Pike’s System of Arithmetic was the first mathematical text to be written and published in America. Pike was a graduate of Harvard and offered the book by subscription. Printed “Recommendations” at the beginning of this first edition were received from Ezra Stiles, James Bowdoin, Benjamin West, and others.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Oranda tensetsu [Dutch astronomy explained]

Tokyo: Shunparo, 8th year of Kansei [1796 CE]

Plimpton Japanese O-8

Kokan was the leading 18th-century Japanese champion of the adoption of western science in Japan. An outstanding scholar of his time, he also practiced European-style oil painting and copper engraving. In this work he described and illustrated the Copernican solar system. It also contains woodcut illustrations of many astronomical instruments along with the blockprinted text.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Brass, Jaipur, India, 19th century?

Smith Instruments 27-257a

Most of the scientific instruments in Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library came from the collection of David Eugene Smith. However, this astrolabe has come down to us with the designation “Mr. Plimpton’s Astrolabe.” The Sanskrit inscription on the throne, श्रीयंत्रराज (“the glorious astrolabe”), at the top of the device, suggests that it is a copy of the much more magnificent astrolabes made in Jaipur, such as No. 30402 owned by the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford University. The astrolabe is a two-dimensional depiction of a celestial sphere using stereographic projection. Jaipur, in northern India, become the center for the manufacture of astrolabes in the eighteenth century with the founding of the observatory, still extant, by the maharajah Jai Singh II (1688-1743).

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Arithmetic Exercises from Manuscript Sum Book

Autograph manuscript, Indiana, 1824

Plimpton Historical Manuscripts

The earliest known examples of Abraham Lincoln’s handwriting come from the arithmetic text that he copied out for his own educational use at age fifteen while living in Indiana. William H. Herndon, later Lincoln’s law partner and biographer, acquired the hand-stitched notebook in 1866. The leaves were later separated and scattered, and today only ten of them have been located. This leaf was a fitting addition to the Plimpton Collection. It is also fitting that we exhibit it in honor of the 2009 bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Rare Book & Manuscript Library / Butler Library, 6th Fl. East / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-5153 / rbml@libraries.cul.columia.edu