Speaking, reading, writing and printing numbers in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England

In his seminal work on numeracy Keith Thomas noticed the different status of different forms of numbers. He quoted Gervase Markham’s 1635 Honest Husbandman ‘there is more trust in an honest score chaulkt on a Trencher, then in a cunning written scrowle, how well so ever painted on the best Parchment’. This paper begins to explore this issue Thomas raises by considering how speaking, reading and writing numbers was taught in seventeenth and eighteenth-century England. Most published arithmetics included numeration tables that were designed to help readers convert spoken numbers to written numbers and vice versa. The table played various roles in the explanations of place value; at times it was seen to be a substitute for a master, and in some contexts the language of the body was used to help readers navigate the table. A few authors were particularly keen to help readers understand very large numbers. Numeration tables also appeared in manuscript arithmetics and the last part of the paper looks at the heated controversies surrounding handwriting numbers in this period.