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A bibliographic mystery: can you find a copy of Mathematick Rules?

From time to time, we like to ask your help with some Oxford English Dictionary (OED) research – the OED has been crowdsourcing long before that word entered the dictionary! The OED Appeals is a section of the OED website where the editors ask if any readers can find antedatings or additional evidence for some selected words. We’ve recently chosen a host of WW1 terms, to commemorate its 100th anniversary, for instance.

Dialler unknown

Sometimes, though, it’s not a word which has the editorial team scratching their heads – it’s a source. OED editors are revising the word dialler n. and have researched a previously unrecorded sense, ‘a maker of, or expert in, sundials’, for potential inclusion. In attempting to find the earliest evidence for this sense, we encountered a mystery.

Alice Morse Earle’s 1902 book Sun Dials and Roses of Yesterday includes, as an epigraph to Chapter V, the following quotation:


If correct, this quotation would be the earliest known evidence for dialler in this sense, but we have been unable to identify Earle’s source (and hence to verify the quotation). We have tried the obvious: searching catalogues under N., I. and N., J., (‘Gentn’ presumably being an abbreviation of ‘gentleman’), trying variations on the title, and considering the possibility that the date is inaccurate (though the century is likely to be correct). Works by 17th-century mathematicians John Newton, John Napier and Sir Isaac Newton have been examined, as well as books of the period on ‘dialling’ and almanacs.

Have you ever seen a copy of this book? Can you identify ‘I. N.’? If so, let us know on the OED Appeals page.

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