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Mathematical Treasure: Mercantile Arithmetic for the U.S.

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

This is the title page of an 1804 printing of Michael Walsh’s A New System of Mercantile Arithmetic: Adapted to the Commerce of the United States in its Domestic and Foreign Relations; with Forms of Accounts and Other Writings Usually Occurring in Trade. Its title proudly proclaims the existence of the United States as a world nation and indicates the necessity of preparing “Yankee Traders.” This is the third edition of the textbook, which was first published in 1801; numerous editions and revisions would continue through 1832. Later volumes were expanded to include material on bookkeeping, mensuration, and gauging. The title page of an 1807 edition, based on the 1804 edition shown above, is shown below.

The Table of Contents on pages IX–XI (below) gives the list of topics considered in the 1804 edition of the book.

The sample pages below (pages 262–263) demonstrate the drawing of bills of sale. They are probably actual bills for transactions of the time. The listed commodities, units of measure, and prices provide insights into the New England trade scene of this time.

All images except for the second title page shown above were obtained from the Pennsylvania State Library, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Dr. Iren Snavely, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, was particularly helpful in securing these images. The second image above is from the Oughtred Society's Tom Wyman Collection. Tom Wyman (1927–2014) was the first president of the Oughtred Society. He assembled an extensive collection of early slide rules and books related to them. The image above is #110 in the Wyman Collection.

More early American arithmetic texts in Convergence:

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Mercantile Arithmetic for the U.S.," Convergence (May 2015)