Growing our Library and Special Collection

How does the MA Library grow?

The Library of The Mathematical Association grows through donations via publishers, from MA members or their relatives following bereavement. For a history of the Library's growth since 1890, see:

Mary Walmsley, Mike Price and Michael Dampier, Mathematical Textbooks from Six Centuries,  Mathematical Association, 2005, available from MA HQ (see 4 above)

This publication includes a complete list of MA Special Collection books held up to 2005. Since 2005 the Collection has grown to over 850 titles. The main contribution to this remarkable growth - over 300 titles - has come from the historical library of the late John Hersee. The current listing can be downloaded:


The Special Collection also holds some runs of a number of early mathematical serials and the current list can be downloaded:


The list includes cross-references (A number) to the authoritative survey of such serials by R C Archibald, ‘Notes on some minor English mathematical serials’, Mathematical Gazette, vol.xiv, no. 200, April 1929, 379-400.

The Manuscript Collection

The MA's Special Collection now holds an exceptional collection in 49 conservation boxes of nearly 300 mathematical manuscript exercise or copy books from the 18th and 19th centuries, including the earliest example from 1704.

The collection came from the historical library of the late John Hersee, a former MA President ( 1992-3 ), and was the largest such collection in private hands in the UK.

The majority of these books are properly bound and run to 100 or more pages, up to a maximum of over 500, and some are multi-volume sets from one writer. They largely served as carefully cyphered works of reference for the learner, before the use of cheaply printed pupil textbooks and flimsy exercise books became the norm from the late-nineteenth century. Some of the books include illustrations, sometimes quite lavish and in colour.

The mathematical content of these books is predominantly restricted to elementary subjects: mainly arithmetic and mensuration but also some geometry, trigonometry and algebra, and applications, particularly commerce and accounting, but also gauging (excise measurements), surveying and navigation.

To find out more about this extraordinary collection, reference may be made to the web pages of the David Wilson Library. Googling on ‘Hersee manuscripts’ will provide a quick link to the welcome page for these manuscripts in Special Collections. Here there is a watercolour illustration of a trigonometrical problem from 1832, and a web link to the collection's full catalogue record. The links also include a full listing of all the books and their contents (building on Hersee's own work) with nearly forty additional illustrations, and a YouTube video link from the 2011 MA Conference, featuring the oldest 1704 volume and the colour illustrated volume of 1832.

Since Hersee's very generous donation, the largest collection of such manuscript books in private hands must be the accumulation of over 125 volumes in the library of John Denniss. He has recently produced a richly illustrated monograph on these books: Figuring It Out ( 2012 ), published by Huxley Scientific Press and available for £10 (plus £1.50 P&P): go to


Rare maths exercise books


Oliver Byrne's Euclid 1847


The MA Library at MA HQ

Visitors to MA HQ may also access, on a reference-only basis, an interesting collection of over 200 older books, principally from the libraries of the late Charles Attwood and John Hersee. These books are duplicate copies of books held in the David Wilson Library and a handlist is available for reference in the John Hersee Room at MA HQ.


Enquiries about possible donations should be addressed in the first instance to Marcia Murray at MA HQ (see 4 above). Possible material for the MA Library should not be delivered to or deposited at MA HQ without invitation.

Mike Price
revised February 2014

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