The American Accomptant;
being a plain, practical and systematic compendium of Federal Arithmetic; in three parts: Designed for the use of schools, and specially calculated for the commercial meridian of the United States of America.Lansingburgh: William W. Wands, 1797 Stock Code: 144618
First use of the dollar symbol ($) in printFirst edition, an exceedingly significant book in the field of Americana, containing the first known appearance in print of the symbol for the United States dollar, previously only used in manuscript form, and additionally in its frontispiece containing the earliest known illustration of a United States coin. This copy retains the original trade sheep binding, as issued.
Aimed at American business people, students, and farmers, the book offers a system of accountancy, and a guide to bookkeeping, simple and compound interest, weights and measures, and foreign exchange rates; it also provides examples of a variety of transactions, as well as arithmetic lessons. The dollar was gradually replacing other currencies in circulation at the time, such as the British sterling, and there was a clear market for accountancy primers.
Lee intended to produce a system of accountancy suited to the needs of the young republic, recommending that a decimalized system of weights and measures be introduced to coincide with the new decimalized US dollar, and proposed the end of vulgar fractions. As he says in his lengthy (38-page) introduction, such changes cannot be effected by his book alone, but needs government action to implement: "to accomplish all this is a task too great for any individual in a republican government. It requires the arm of Congress to effect it" (p. xix).
Alongside the dollar symbol - which he derived from a symbol already in use in manuscript bookkeeping and financial correspondence - Lee also proposed symbols for cent, dime, and ten dollar units, mirroring the British currency system of pound, shilling, pence, and farthing. This marked a lack of imagination for Lee, failing to see that the decimal system which he was so enthusiastic about would eliminate the need for more than one fundamental monetary symbol. The use of multiple symbols limited the book's impact, with the examples he gives appearing much more complicated than they need be; perhaps as a consequence, Lee's book did not undergo further editions, and did not achieve the reforms he desired. Yet while Lee's other symbols were never adopted, his dollar symbol, which he uses 232 times in the book, became current in print from 1799 onwards, morphing over time into the modern, somewhat neater symbol.
With the bookplate of the Hall Park McCulloughs, whose Victorian mansion in Vermont is now the Park-McCullough Historic House.
Octavo (171 x 101 mm). Contemporary trade sheep, black morocco label to spine lettered gilt.
Engraved frontispiece by Abner Reed, depicting obverse and verso of a number of coins.
Sheep with light rubbing and insect damage, minor split at head of front joint, but all holding firm; contents with very light browning as usual, paper fault with slight loss to text to pp. 153/4, text on p. 167 mis-centered and slight shaved by binder, short closed tear not affecting text to pp. 175/6. A very good copy.
Evans 32366; ESTC W37195; Howes USiana L196; Sabin 39719.
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