17 June 2008
VIÈTE, François. (1540-1603). Canon mathematicus, seu ad triangula. - Canonion triangulorum laterum rationalium. - Universalium inspectionum ad canonem mathematicum liber singularis. Paris: Jean Mettayer, 1579.
3 parts in one volume, large 2o (399 x 275 mm). Partly printed in red and black (including title). 5 double-page tables, numerous woodcut diagrams in text. 19th-century calf central gilt coat-of-arms of Lord Willoughby de Broke on upper cover (some light wear to spine, a few scratches to sides). Provenance: Robert John Verney, Lord Willoughby de Broke (arms on binding, bookplate); Harrison D. Horblit (bookplate).
FIRST EDITION OF VIÈTE'S FIRST BOOK. A fundamental work on trigonometry. It treats the rule for remembering collections of formulas, now known as "Napier's rule," and the reform of decimal fractions. The Canon mathematicus was Viète's first published mathematical work. In it he "introduced the principle of solution of equations by reduction and used this in the solution of biquadratics ... His main contribution to algebra was the introduction of alphabetic letters to denote general and indefinite quantities, and the + and - signs, formerly but rarely used by merchants. He expressed as an infinite product" (Dibner). Viète's work consists of two parts: "Canon mathematicus," containing a table of trigonometric lines with some additional tables; and "Universalium inspectionum ad canonem mathematicum" (with a separate title), "giving the computational methods used in the construction of the canon and explaining the computation of plane and spherical triangles. Viète had originally planned to include two more parts devoted to astronomy, but these were never published. Canon mathematicus was remarkably advanced typographically for its time. It is also very rare: privately printed in a small edition, its scarcity was compunded by Viète's displeasure over its many misprints, which caused him to withdraw from circulation all the copies he could revover" (Norman). RARE: According to American Book Prices Current, only 4 other copies sold at auction in over 30 years. Adams V-717 and V-724; BM/STC French p. 439; Dibner Heralds of Science 105; Norman 2151.
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