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Mathematical Treasure: John Seller’s Mathematical Tables

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

John Seller (1630-1697), the author of A Pocket Book [of Mathematical Tables], identified himself as “Hydrographer to the King” (Charles II), thus he had some mathematical and scientific training. The contents of this book provide a good example as to the seventeenth century needs and uses of mathematical data. There were at least three editions after the 1677 edition shown here.

1677 - A Pocket Book, containing severall choice collections in Arithmetick, Astronomy, Geometry, Surveying, Dialling, etc. / [by] Seller, John, Hydrographer.

1680 - A pocket booke containing severall choice collections in arithmetick, etc. / [by] Seller, John, Hydrographer.

1685 - A pocket book, containing several choice Collections in Arithmetic, Geometry, &c, &c / [by] Seller, John.

1700 - A Pocket Book. Containing severall choice collections in arethmetick [sic], astronomy, etc. [By John Seller.] MS. notes. / [by] Seller, John, Hydrographer; POCKET BOOK.

A “Table of Tides” supplied vital information for merchants importing or exporting goods, and a computation of interest earned on principal was of common value.

A “Tychonican” diagram of the positions of the planets aided in astrological predictions. The name referred to Tycho Brahe, the sixteenth century Danish astronomer.

A table of dry measure; a table of liquid measure: wine, oil, etc.; and a chart of assized bread measures would have been important to the common people. Since medieval times, the sizes of bread loaves, the food for the masses, were fixed by law.

These images are provided courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. You may use them in your classroom; all other uses require permission from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The Mathematical Association of America is pleased to cooperate with the Beinecke Library and Yale University to make these images available to a larger audience.

Index of Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: John Seller’s Mathematical Tables," Convergence (July 2014)