Ye olde maths textbooke found after 470 years

The puzzles, set in 1536 to tax the minds of merchants, are contained in the oldest English arithmetic book in existence, which has been acquired for the nation by the British Library, which will keep it in its collection.

As well as the problems, including questions about payments for clergy, cats scaling trees and market trading, the book gives instructions about calculating weights and the use of an abacus. It also marks the transition from Roman numerals to Arabic figures.

Printed in St Albans by John Ehfurt, the edition of An Introduccion for to lerne to rekyn with the pen, & with the counters is the earliest known copy to have survived. Few practical books from the period still exist, as they were so heavily used that they just fell to pieces. Even later editions of this book are very rare.

The copy had previously been unknown and came to light in the private library of the earls of Macclesfield. It was bought for £97,500 with funds raised by Friends of the British Library and Friends of National Libraries.

A British Library spokeswoman said: "This is the only known surviving copy of the first printed mathematical book in English. It influenced many subsequent books in English about the teaching and study of arithmetic. This book is particularly significant because it marks the transition from a clerical to a secular, merchant culture, and the developing use of the English language instead of Latin. This is an exciting acquisition."

OLD POSER

The rule and questyon of a catte.

There is a catte at the fote of a tre the length of 300 fote / this catte goeth upwarde eche daye 17 fote, and descendeth eche nyght 12 fote. I demaunde in how longe tyme shall she be at ye toppe.

Answere Take vp and abate the nyght of the daye / that is 12 of 17, and there remayneth 5, therfore the catte mounteth eche daye 5 fote / deuyde now 300 by 5 & therof cometh 60, dayes then she shal be at the toppe. [sic]

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