Pre-1600 Rare Books Collection: Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Philosophy & Theology, and Literature
The Augustus De Morgan Collection, Part 1
Part 1: Pre-1600 Rare Books Collection
This first part of The Augustus De Morgan Collection comprises 320 items printed before the 17th century from the library of the nineteenth-century mathematician and logician Augustus De Morgan (1806–1871), held at the Senate House Library in London. This part of the collection features books on a range of mathematical subjects, from pure geometry to astronomy to commerce. It contains works of all sizes, from two 8-page pamphlets to a 1493-page opus on trigonometry. Several books contain letters, learned annotations, or idiosyncratic illustrations, sometimes serious but often humorous.
The most famous item in this part of The Augustus De Morgan Collection is a first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium caelestium (1543), the groundbreaking treatise that marked the introduction of the heliocentric system of astronomy in use today. Other highlights of this collection include eleven early printed editions of Euclid’s Elements, beginning with the renowned editio princeps published in Venice by Erhard Ratdolt in 1482, and including Henry Billingsley’s English translation of 1570, with John Dee’s “very fruitfull præface”. Ten sixteenth-century copies of books by the Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde include original editions of a medical work, The Urinal of Physick (1548), The Castle of Knowledge (1556) on astronomy, and The Whetstone of Witte (1557) on algebra.
Also included are 24 incunabula, the earliest of which are two books from 1474: an early edition of Regiomontanus’ Calendarium and a copy of Paolo de Venecia’s Logica Parva, the most widely read work on logic in fifteenth-century Italy. Other early gems include Luca Pacioli’s Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità (1494), the first comprehensive survey of mathematics ever printed, as well as the first published account of double-entry bookkeeping, several versions of Sacrobosco’s thirteenth-century Sphaera Mundi, and Johannes Widmann’s 1489 Behe[n]de und hubsche Rechenung auff allen Kauffmanschafft, a German book on commercial arithmetic containing the first printed appearance of the + and – signs.
Furthermore, the Collection showcases famous treatises, such as Ptolemy’s Almagest and William Gilbert’s De magnete, alongside obscure and little-known rarities, including several erroneous attempts to square the circle, and an extremely rare 1501 book on logic, Sum[m]ule totius logice by Jodocus Trutvetter, one of only two copies known to exist in the UK.
Noteworthy Manuscripts from the Collection
Highlights from Adrian Rice: The Whetstone of Witte (1557) by the Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde. The De Morgan Collection contains several books written by Recorde, including an original edition of his medical work, The Urinal of Physick (1548) and a book on astronomy, The Castle of Knowledge (1556). But The Whetstone of Witte is particularly noteworthy in the history of mathematics. Not only was it the first book on algebra to have been composed in English, but it also introduced Recorde’s symbol of = to represent equality. Recorde explained he had chosen two horizontal parallel lines, in his words, “bicause noe .2. thynges can be moare equalle.”
Perhaps the most famous item in this section of De Morgan’s library is a first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium caelestium (1543), the groundbreaking treatise that marked the introduction of the heliocentric system of astronomy in use today. The title page of De Morgan’s copy contains his handwritten remark:
“Aug. 4, 1864. I have this day entered all the corrections required by the Congregation of the Index (1620) so that any Roman [Chris]tian may read the book with a good conscience.”
An extremely rare 1501 book on logic, Sum[m]ule totius logice by the German philosopher Jodocus Trutvetter, one of only two copies known to exist in the UK.
Leonard Digges, A Geometrical Practise, Named Pantometria (London: H. Bynneman, 1571). A book of practical and theoretical geometry by a man described by the ODNB as “a key figure in the establishment of the role of the mathematical practitioner.” This item stands out among De Morgan’s books for early hand-colouring of the title page. De Morgan’s copy is inscribed as having been bought in 1584 by one John Levitt.