Originally, the mathematicians who gathered at the cafe would write down the problems and equations directly on the cafe's marble table tops, but these would be erased at the end of each day, and so the record of the preceding discussions would be lost. The idea for the book was most likely originally suggested by Stefan Banach, or his wife, Łucja, who purchased a large notebook and left it with the proprietor of the cafe.
The Scottish Café (Polish: Kawiarnia Szkocka) was the café in Lwów (now Lviv) where, in the 1930s and 1940s, mathematicians from the Lwów School collaboratively discussed research problems, particularly in functional analysis and topology.
Stanislaw Ulam recounts that the tables of the café had marble tops, so they could write in pencil, directly on the table, during their discussions. To keep the results from being lost, and after becoming annoyed with their writing directly on the table tops, Stefan Banach's wife provided the mathematicians with a large notebook, which was used for writing the problems and answers and eventually became known as the Scottish Book. The book—a collection of solved, unsolved, and even probably unsolvable problems—could be borrowed by any of the guests of the café. Solving any of the problems was rewarded with prizes, with the most difficult and challenging problems having expensive prizes (during the Great Depression and on the eve of World War II), such as a bottle of fine brandy.
For problem 153, which was later recognized as being closely related to Stefan Banach's "basis problem", Stanisław Mazur offered the prize of a live goose. This problem was solved only in 1972 by Per Enflo, who was presented with the live goose in a ceremony that was broadcast throughout Poland.