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Summa de arithmetica

Su[m]ma de arithmetica geometria proportioni [et] proportionalita. Continentia de tutta lopera

Written by Luca Pacioli

Printed by Paganino de Paganini (Venice; 1494)

This, the first great work on mathematics to be printed, includes treatises on arithmetic, algebra, geometry, foreign exchange calculations and double-entry bookkeeping - the "Methods of Venice" . It is this last section that eventually, about a hundred years ago; led to its writer becoming well known for having set down the system of accounting which remains in use today.

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A preliminary page from one of ICAEW's two copies of Summa de Arithmetica

Luca Pacioli was a teacher of mathematics, not a mathematician. His failure to produce any original work has been used by many as a basis for accusations of plagiarism and this has lasted from soon after his death to the present day. Those guilty of copying the works of others, and there are examples in this particular field, either make no references at all or quote other writers only to damn their work and praise their own. Pacioli does neither. He praises the work of others, gives particulars of the authorities he follows or merely refers to the particular method or system he is setting down.

Turning the pages

Take a look at our digitised copy of the "De scripturis" section from one of the two editions of Summa de arithmetica in the ICAEW collection.

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That he was the leading teacher of mathematics of his day is clear from his publications and from the encouragement he received from leading patrons of the arts and sciences and from those with whom he worked. He and his great friend Leonardo da Vinci worked together, while teaching in Rome he stayed with the great Alberti and in his earlier years Fiero della Francesca gave him much encouragement. Federigo Duke of Urbino founded the great library, in which Piero and Luca both studied, and his son Guidobaldo continued the father's patronage of both men. All these and many others known to him would not have been deceived had Pacioli published the work of others falsely as his own.

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This article was originally prepared by the library team in the mid-twentieth century to introduce the rare books and facsimiles in our collection to a wider audience. It is not intended as a piece of scholarly analysis and should not be read as such.

Historical Accounting Literature

The ICAEW collection of historical accounting literature currently comprises around 3,000 volumes and includes works published from the 15th century to the early 20th century. The collection includes books and journals in a variety of languages.

Find out more about the collection and its history.