Page headers from the extraordinary 1859 math workbook of William D. Linebaugh
Most of the old letters I buy are cheap. As in, my self-imposed budget is $5–$15. Heck, Marcel’s original letters were only $6 and change. I’ve only broken that rule a few times, such as when I acquired this WWII postcard—and I purchased it only because the postcard had been mailed from the Berlin-Marienfelde labor camp at the same time Marcel was there.
But when I saw this math workbook on eBay a couple of months back, I broke my rule. The find seemed that extraordinary. (Full disclosure: The book was about the cost of a nice dinner out; since we haven’t eaten out in more than a year it seemed like an acceptable splurge.)
I don’t know anything about William D. Linebaugh, the man behind this 1859 workbook. But I’ve imagined who he might have been.
Here’s the person I’ve conjured in my mind: William D. Linebaugh was young—12 to 14. He was smart. And bored. I imagine him sitting in some elite east coast prep school, finishing his math lessons before the other students in class. I imagine he needed to do something to keep busy and stay out of trouble as he bided his time. Could he have had ADHD more than a hundred years before the condition was officially recognized? Who knows. I am especially curious about lettering that slopes both left and right. Was he ambidextrous?
The math workbook has approximately 100 pages, and almost every page has some ornate title such as “Single Rule of Three,” “Multiplication,” “Interest,” “Time,” or “Square Root.” About a quarter of the pages simply have the word “Continued”—though there isn’t anything simple about the lettering. I continue to be awed at the detail, variety, and ornamentation within the letters; that’s one reason I use the word “extraordinary” when I describe this workbook.
The workbook pages themselves are filled with problems and equations. Columns of text are divided by lines decorated with cross-hatching and dots. Thousands and thousands of dots.
Take a moment to imagine Willam D. Linebaugh; I’d love to hear your thoughts on who he was.