Pretty Mathematics

We have restarted a project to finish cataloging the Plimpton Collection. George Arthur Plimpton (1855-1936) collected “our tools of learning,” pretty broadly described, and gave the collection to Columbia shortly before his death. I’ve been enjoying reviewing the early books — though I’ve been a little surprised by how many books printed before 1800 remain uncataloged. In any case, here are two which particularly caught my eye.

The first is plate five from Johann Friedrich Penther’s Praxis geometriae, 6th edition (Augsburg: Probst, 1761).


The plate demonstrates mathematical concepts, and makes concrete the metaphors used by the author. We start with a point, then a line….  Parallel lines are — see? like cart wheel tracks. My favorite part is the extremely elegant hand holding the pen/ plumb/saw, a hand which comes out of an equally elegant cloud/cuff, because hands (the artist must have thought to himself) have to come from somewhere.

The second image is from an earlier edition of Penther, the third edition,1749, also printed in Augsburg by Probst. This has the same lovely engraved plate, but also this wonderful dedication page:

And what’s not to love about this? It’s a good size, nearly 13 inches tall, with all the extras: beautiful engraving at the head; four great typefaces (if we count the three sizes of blackletter separately), including a roman type for emphasis; and one of the great factotums (woodcuts with a space within to insert a piece of type to make an initial) of all time.

Can’t wait for more!


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