The Special Collections

University Special Collection Books:

The older and rarer books are fully listed and can be downloaded: 


An exceptional 1847 Euclid in colour features on a YouTube video from the 2011 MA conference:


University Special Collection Serials:

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.

University Special Collection Manuscripts:

The University 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.

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, can be downloaded here

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. The Hersee collection also features in this book.

‘Since the Hersee donation, six more manuscript books have been acquired by the MA for the DWL Special Collection: 3 books, one author circa 1845, a gift from June Smedley; one book, circa 1815, a gift from Frank Knowles; one book, circa 1860, a gift from Stephen Abbott; and an exceptional naval manuscript reference book, dated 1792, spanning the full mathematics curriculum taught at the Portsmouth Royal Academy, purchased from John Halsey.

University Wittgenstein Special Collection

The MA owns the Wittgenstein papers from the 1930s transcribed by Francis Skinner, a student and partner of Wittgenstein. This rare archive collection is on loan from the university to Trinity College Cambridge.

Their catalogue entry can be downloaded here:

MA HQ Special Collection

Visitors to MA HQ may also access, on a reference-only basis, an interesting collection of over 500 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 MA Office. 



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