A new edition of Euclid's Elements written by Oliver Byrne, using colored symbols instead of letters for the purpose of more effective visual communication. London, William Pickering, 1847, xxix, 268p.

This book was an attempt to teach Euclid by using images to teach the visual nature of the text, instead of the traditional pictures. At the time, the experiment failed, for a variety of reasons. The book was expensive, 25 shillings, at a time when a good book cost 4 or 5 shillings. Multi-color printing was in its infancy, and this new book seemed strange. "The result is a decided complication for Euclid, but a triumph for Charles Whittingham."1(Charles Whittingham was the printer of the book.)

More recently, people have begun to see the value of this sort of communication. In Envisioning Information, Tufte states that "A close look, however, indicates that Byrne's design clarifies the overly indirect and complicated Euclid, at lease for certain readers."2

The four page description in Envisioning Information caused a new interest in Byrne's Euclid. There is now a web site that has the entire contents of the book, as well as other resources pertaining Byrne and Euclild's Elements.3 It has also caused the price of the book to skyrocket. In the mid 1980s, it was possible to buy a copy of the book in very good condition for $250 or $300. In the spring of 2000, a copy in fair condition sold for $1250. In late 1999, copies that had been rebound were offered for as little as $1200. Now a copy costs upwards of $5000.4

1.Ruari McLean, Victorian Book Design and Colour Printing, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1972
2. Edward R. Tufte, Envisioning Information, Graphics Press, Cheshire, Connecticut, 1990, p84
3. http://www.sjca.edu/~cbp/indexbyr.html (I created this web site, and in the process, researched all of the information that is in this article. Cletus the Foetus has noticed that the site is no longer up. If you would like to host it, or want to see the pictures, let me know - I can email the whole thing - about 50 megs.
4. http://www.bookfinder.com

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