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Winterthur Digital Collections

About this collection

Exercise books of students and a schoolmaster from the early 1700s to the mid 1800s comprise this collection.  The volumes, also known as ciphering or cyphering books,  contain instructions, examples, and problems pertaining to arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry, navigation, and surveying.  Multiplication, division, compound interest, proportions, weights and measures, fractions, barter, decimals, exchanges, tare and tret, and the rule of three are covered. 

 

The exercises typically progressed from simple to more complex problems, with an introductory statement followed by rules, cases, and examples.  Before problems were committed to paper, teachers and tutors reviewed students’ work, with equal emphasis placed on penmanship.  Some volumes feature watercolor drawings and calligraphy, the most elaborate seen in Peggy Clayton’s 1776 volume. 

 

Many students created their own books from sewing sections of paper together and covering them with leather, fabric, wallpaper, newspaper, or plain paper.  These books were usually the only ones students wrote in and were saved as a future reference tool for mercantile endeavors.  We now value them for information gleaned about educational practices in the colonial and early republic eras. 

 

 

 
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