Bowditch, Nathaniel (1773-1838) Collection

(Rare Books & Manuscripts)

Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838) of Salem, Mass., was a self-taught mathematician, navigator, and businessman who gained fame for his work on ocean navigation, particularly for his book The New American Practical Navigator (1802). He published many treatises on mathematical problems, navigation, and astronomical computations, and assembled a sizable personal library, which his heirs donated to the Boston Public Library in 1858.

Originally comprised of approximately 2,500 books, 500 pamphlets, 100 maps, and 29 volumes of manuscripts from Bowditch's personal library, the Bowditch Collection  has since grown to over 10,000 items thanks to an 1890 bequest of funds by J. Ingersoll Bowditch. In its current form, the Bowditch Collection represents the BPL's primary collection of rare printed scientific and mathematical works.

Highlights of the collection include first editions of pathbreaking books like Copernicus' De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, opens a new window (On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres) (1543) and Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, opens a new window (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) (1687). Examples of additional early or otherwise important editions include the 1610 Frankfurt edition, opens a new window of Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius (Starry messenger), Kepler's Astronomia Nova (New Astronomy) (1609), and the first edition of Farkas Bolyai's Scientiam Spatii Absolute Veram Exhibens ..., opens a new window ([Appendix] Explaining the Absolutely True Science of Space) (1832), as well as countless other books of enduring value, including rare and important atlases and treatises on navigation, mathematics, and astronomy from the 16th through 20th centuries.

Information and online access

Those items that have been electronically cataloged are retrievable through either of the online catalogs, opens a new window via a title search for Nathaniel Bowditch Collection (Boston Public Library). The personal papers of Nathaniel Bowditch can be retrieved via a title search for Nathaniel Bowditch Papers (Boston Public Library).

A description of the collection was published in: Margaret Munsterberg, "The Bowditch Collection in the Boston Public Library," Isis: A Journal of the History of Science 34 (1942): 140-142. (Rare Books & Manuscripts)