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

Medieval World: Quadrivium > Page 5


Liber mahometi de Algebra

Manuscript book on paper

Germany, ca. 1456

Plimpton MS 188

Al-Khwarizmi was born in the province of Khwarezm, now modern Uzbekistan, and died ca. 831 CE. He was the most celebrated algebraist of his time, and the first to write a book bearing the title Algebra. From his name comes the word algorism. David Eugene Smith noted in Rara Arithmetica that the et in this manuscript “used for plus so closely resembles the + as to leave little doubt that the latter was derived from this Latin word.” This manuscript was a gift from Smith to Plimpton.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton

BOETHIUS, CA. 480 – 524

De institutione arithmetica

Augsburg: Erhard Ratdolt, May 20, 1488

Incunabula Goff B-828 (Plimpton 511 1488)

As described by Smith in Rara Arithmetica, the arithmetic of Boethius was based on the Greek work of Nicomachus (fl. 100 CE), becoming the standard text used in the Church schools throughout the Middle Ages. This first printed edition of the work came from the press of Erhard Ratdolt, who had produced the first edition of Euclid in Venice in 1482.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton

Algorithmus integrorum cum probis annexis

[Leipzig: Martin Landsberg, circa 1490-1495]

Incunabula Goff A-461

Citing Hermann Emil Wappler, David Eugene Smith credits Johann Widman as the possible author of this text that treats numeration, addition, subtraction, duplation, mediation, multiplication, division, and progressions.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Compendio de lo Abaco

Turin: Nicolaus de Benedictis and Jacobinus Suigus, September 28, 1492

Incunabula Goff P-260 (Plimpton 511 1492)

David Eugene Smith described this as one of the rarest arithmetics known to exist, this being the only copy known to him. Indeed, it is the only copy listed on WorldCat today. Smith notes in Rara Arithmetica that the book is of interest chiefly for the reason that Pellos “came very near the invention of decimal fractions, and that he actually used the decimal point” although without having “any conception of the real value of the decimal fraction as such.”

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Summa arismetice

Manuscript book on paper Italy, ca. 1522

Plimpton MS 211

Stefano was born in Mercatello, a town in the mountains above Pesaro near the Adriatic. He writes in his dedicatory preface that he studied under Luca Paciuolo, author of the Suma de arithmetica, the first great general work on mathematics, first printed in Venice in 1494. In this commercial arithmetic, he relies heavily on Paciuolo’s works in regard to mercantile applications, covering barter, partnership, various forms of discount and exchange, and other similar topics.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


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