Accession No


Brief Description

napier’s bones, cylindrical form, rolling rods, by John England, English, 1703 - 1708


England; London; Charing Cross


England, John


mathematics; calculating

Earliest Date

Jan. 1, 1703

Latest Date

Dec. 31, 1708

Inscription Date


wood (boxwood); metal (brass)


length 112mm; breadth 82mm; height 28mm

Special Collection


Purchased from Arthur Davidson Ltd., 179 New Bond Street, London, England in 06/06/1974. Purchased with the assistance of a Science Museum PRISM grant-in-aid.



Description Notes

Box of cylindrical form napier’s rods with hinged lid (brass hinges). The outside of the hinged lid with linear border decoration. Inside the lid is a Pythagorean multiplication table with capacity of 20 x 16. Inside the box are 6 cylinders operated from the front face of the box by turned and carved handles. Each cylinder is calibrated with the multiplication table of 1 - 9 for the multiplicands 0 - 9 and reads from top to bottom. Final ‘x 10’ is marked ‘*’. At the right hand side is laminar marked ‘C S R’ calibrated for cubes and squares with multiplicand 1 - 9. Beneath this laminar a fixed strip marked ‘S R’ for squares, doubles and the multiplicand 1 - 9. Cover strips obscure all but one column of each cylinder.

Condition good (chip on one side of lid); complete


Mikey McGovern; 'A brief history of calculating devices'; Explore Whipple Collections online article; Whipple Museum of the History of Science; University of Cambridge:


Rolling rods are a variation on Napiers bones, they work on exactly the same principle, not loose, and are usually cased.

In 1617 John Napier invented the calculating aid Napiers bones. These were first described in his book Numeration by Little Rods in 1617. Each of the 10 rods or ‘bones’ in a set are engraved with a multiplication table. This simple device made multiplying and dividing large numbers very easy by transforming the calculations into simple addition and subtraction. The rods became extremely popular and spread across Europe lasting well into the 20th century where they were still used in primary schools in the 1960’s.


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