THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
|A UNIQUE COLLECTION OF ARITHMETICS|
By Dr. LOUIS C. KARPINSKI
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
RECENT visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been impressed by the wealth of the loan collections standing in names comparatively unknown to the general public. A two-million-dollar sale of works of art lately excited only passing comment—in spite of the fact that many priceless treasures were forever lost to America. The existence of this private gallery was made widely known only through the dispersal of its paintings—and the unfortunate story of its loss to New York City. There are many other storehouses of those things which we human beings prize in this great city. Fortunately not all of them need to be destroyed as collections before their significance and charm receive adequate recognition. So the Morgan library in its own somewhat permanent home is now numbered among the city's choicest possessions.
The existence in the metropolis of an absolutely unrivaled collection of fifteenth and sixteenth century arithmetics has been brought to the attention of the scientific world by the publication of David Eugene Smith's "Rara Arithmetica" While the work purports to be a mere descriptive catalogue of the arithmetical books of the period mentioned which are in the library of G. A. Plimpton, it is in fact a comparatively complete bibliography of the subject, since this library contains practically all the arithmetic books published in the first hundred and fifty years of printing. As the third, and by far the most complete, collection of arithmetical works of international fame the Plimpton books take a high place among modern private libraries.
George A. Plimpton's interest in arithmetics grew out of his business as a publisher of text-books. The historical development of the school curriculum is exhibited by his library. Included are geographies from the invention of printing up to modern times, spellers, writing books with wonderful specimens of writing from all the world, geometries, reading books and representatives of the other subjects of the ordinary school program. But the gems of the collection are doubtless the mathematical works, for in these Mr. Plimpton's interest has been stimulated by Professor David Eugene Smith, himself an enthusiastic bibliophile. The bookshops of all the world have yielded their treasures to these indefatigable searchers. Professor Smith's recent trip