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American and Canadian Cyphering Book Collection

American and Canadian Cyphering Book Collection

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Title:American and Canadian Cyphering Book Collection
Quantity:8.5 linear feet (18 boxes, 1 volume)
Abstract:This collection contains 197 items, most of which are cyphering books - handwritten books used to set out rules and cases associated with mathematical topics and which included problems and exercises linked to the topics. Students in the 18th and 19th centuries prepared them to use in their academic study.
Collection Number:MSS 399

Series List

SERIES I. Mathematics
A. Salem, Massachusetts
B. Other Locations
SERIES II. Navigation
SERIES III. Textbooks
A. Standard Christ's Hospital RMS Curriculum
B. Other Textbooks

Scope and Content Note

The Phillips Library holds 215 cyphering books. This collection contains 197 items, arranged in three series: Mathematics, Navigation, and Textbooks. Mathematics includes Arithmetic, Geometry, Trigonometry, and other subjects. The books are arranged chronologically within each series, with undated books falling at the end of the series. Many books contain more than one subject. There are also three textbooks included. Most of the cyphering books were created in New England, but one is from Canada and three are from England. Not all volumes are true cyphering books; a few are exercise books containing mathematical calculations with headings similar to the cyphering books. The Navigation books usually start with Geometry or Trigonometry and then cover different types of sailing, compass calculations, and a real or imagined log of a voyage.

An addendum, entitled "Summary of Ciphering Books at Phillips Library, Salem, Massachusetts" compiled by Nerida Ellerton and McKenzie Clements of Illinois State University in 2009, is attached to this Finding Aid. On the PEM Finding Aid, the number in brackets after the name of the cyphering book refers to the number on the addendum, which gives greater detail about each book that was examined. Additional items were found after Ms Ellerton and Mr. Clements left the library, so this collection includes titles not examined by them.

Historical Note

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in North America, students over the age of ten prepared cyphering books (also spelled ciphering) to use in their academic study. They were handwritten and were used to set out rules and cases associated with mathematical topics and included problems and exercises linked to the topics. The problems were in arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, or applications of mathematics in the fields of navigation, surveying, or military strategy. Some were beautifully illustrated in ink or watercolor.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Bowditch, N. I. (Nathaniel Ingersoll), 1805-1861
Bowditch, Nathaniel, 1773-1838
Ciphering books
Ciphering books--Massachusetts--Salem
Cyphering books
Education, Colonial
Education--History--United States
Mathematics--Problems, exercises, etc.--History--19th century
Mathematics--Study and teaching--History--United States


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

American and Canadian Cyphering Book Collection, MSS 399, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was found in the collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Tamara Gaydos and Barbara Kampas, August 2009. Updated by 2010, 2015.

Related Material


Seller, John. Practical Navigation; or An Introduction to the Whole Art. London: R. & W. Mount and T. Page, 1714.

Stone, Edmund. The Construction and Principal Uses of Mathematical Instrumentation. London: J. Senex, 1723.

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Fowler, Clarissa Page. Arithmetic (2 volumes), circa 1814-1816, MSS 672 Box 3, Folder 8, 9, 10

Little, Moses. Arithmetic, 1782, MSS 67 Box 9, Folder 8

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Very, Jones. Tranverse, undated, MSS 83 Box 1, Folder 1


[Briggs, William]. 1808, Log 87 Student exercise book

Crowninshield, John. 1787, MH 15 Box 9, Folder 1

Crowninshield, John. 1789, MH 15 Box 9, Folder 2

Devereux, James. 1822, MH 1, Box 8 Folder 3

Garland, Thomas. 1845-1850, Log 585 Ship Great Western

Phillips, Stephen. 1873, MH 4 Oversize box 1, Folder 1

Riggs, Joshua. 1762, Log 5 Schooner John

Thompson, Thomas. 1748-1750, Log 1 Snow Betty & Jenny

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Winslow, John H. 1835-1841, Acc 2014.023

Ciphering books in other institutions:

Huguenot Historical Society: (4 ciphering books)

North Carolina State Archives: Sloan Osborne Ciphering Book

Rhode Island Historical Society: John Andrews Papers (1 ciphering book)

University of Notre Dame: Manuscripts of Antebellum America (ciphering books and copybooks)

"Summary of Ciphering Books at Phillips Library, Salem, Massachusetts" compiled by Nerida Ellerton and McKenzie Clements of Illinois State University in 2009. Addendum

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