JOHN NAPIER (1550-1617)

Rabdologiae, seu numerationis per virgulas libri duo. Edinburgh: Andrew Hart, 1617. 12° (134 x 75mm). With the final blank. 3 (of 4) folding engraved plates, engraved and woodcut diagrams in the text. (Lacking plate B, plate C misbound at p.106, leaf A4 and plate C with some wear to fore-edge.) 18th-century quarter calf (front board detached, spine worn, lower joint starting, sides scuffed). Provenance: a contemporary English reader (an explanatory note bound-in at p.27) -- 'I.P.I:SA' (inscription at foot of title) -- Sir Edmund Frederick Du Cane (1830-1903, prison administrator, officer in the Royal Engineers; title inscription) -- Alastair Napier (1946-2012, descendent of John Napier; by descent to the consignor).

FIRST EDITION. THE FIRST DESCRIPTION OF NAPIER'S IMPORTANT PRECURSORS OF MODERN CALCULATING MACHINES AND COMPUTERS. Seeking to ease the tedium in calculating logarithmic tables, and to reduce errors produced when working with large numbers, Napier devised various mechanical methods described here, including the famed 'bones', and his 'promptuary', a more elaborate calculating device consisting of engraved rods and strips sometimes described as the first attempt at inventing a calculating machine (Hawkins 1988). Rabdologiae also includes the first printed reference to the decimal point, and a discussion of 'local arithmetic', one of the first explorations of binary arithmetic as a computation aid. This copy with a contemporary manuscript note in English bound in ('How the product, or multiple, of every column is to be read'), showing interesting evidence of early use. Dibner Heralds of Science, 107; Norman 1574; Origins of Cyberspace 11.

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