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Mathematical Diagrams from 1482

This folio-sized edition of Euclid's Elements, printed in Venice in 1482, is a showpiece of the library's continental collection. It’s considered the first full-length printed book with extensive mathematical illustrations. In a dedicatory preface, the printer Erhard Ratdolt appears well aware of his place in history; the text explains that he set out to meet the challenge, which had defeated others, of incorporating a large number of printed diagrams. Initially believed to be woodcut images, these are now thought to have been produced with metal lines.


Unlike many collectors, Henry and Emily Folger liked to acquire books that had been marked up over the centuries; they believed that the comments of previous owners added to the scholarly value of a given work. In this case, the extensive marginalia, written in brown ink in both Latin and Greek and in several different hands, reveal that for its owners, this was a hardworking textbook.


Reader after reader through the years evidently studied the words and pictures, working out proofs in the margins along the way. Long before the halfway point in this copy, however, the industrious note taking dwindles to a halt. The study that began so promisingly for each reader was apparently never continued to its conclusion.


Euclid Elements. Latin. Venice, 1482

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