Medieval Accountancy

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Colin Middleton
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Medieval Accountancy

Post by Colin Middleton »

I was just reading a post by 'The Other Graham' and it diverted into the subject of accountancy displays. IT seems that several people are quite interested in the subject.

It's something that I've touched on at shows for a few years now. I've got an accounting board, an exchequer board and a good supply of jettons and a selection of historic coins (okay, so I just like collecting things and Dave does SUCH pretty pennies).It can provoke quite an interested response from the public, though I don't often get time to spend at it.

So, I thought that I'd start a little threat to share what we know of historic accountancy and help people along... (especially me :wink: ).

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Colin
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Colin Middleton
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

Post by Colin Middleton »

As a staring point, does anyone know if Jon at Gothic Green Oak got that book on accountancy off the ground. We had a few discussions on it after he made my accounting and exchequer boards and I know that he was doing some research beyond what I could tell him.

I'll try to dig up the links that I used to get me started too. If anyone needs help with addition, subtraction or (especially) multiplication, let me know and I'll explain the best that I can.

Unfortunately beyond the basic maths, I don't know much about accounting, so any tips would be appreciated.

Many thanks

Colin
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MilesT
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

Post by MilesT »

What's the difference between an accounting board and an exchequer board?

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Re: Medieval Accountancy

Post by guthrie »

MilesT wrote:What's the difference between an accounting board and an exchequer board?
If there is any difference, it may well be in the layout. An exchequer board will be checked whether by weave or paint or something. An accounting board may be laid out more like a spreadsheet.

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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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As far as I can tell, an accounting board is basically a calculator. You've got rows marked off for currency, kind of like an abacus. The exchequer board is the one that you normally see. It looks like a chess board with currency down one side and 'accounts' across the top. That is used to work your accounts on.
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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That was my take on it as well.
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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I've been trying to sort out my counting board and I've got myself in a 'tizzy'. I can't work out what the symbols used for half and quarter are in Medieval accounts. I know that one of them is 'ob' and one of them is 'di', but I can't remember which is which. Can anyone help me please?
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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Obol (ob.) was used for a half penny or a half anything - it's originally Greek but seems to have flowed through to medieval Latin and regularly appears in accounting records for a halfpenny. Niermeyer's Medieval Latin Lexicon gives obolata as a halfpenny worth of a commodity.

Di. is also from Greek (diatessaron) meaning a fourth or group of four. It appears in the New Latin Word List and the currently-in-production Dictionary of Medieval Latin.
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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Colin Middleton wrote:I've been trying to sort out my counting board and I've got myself in a 'tizzy'. I can't work out what the symbols used for half and quarter are in Medieval accounts. I know that one of them is 'ob' and one of them is 'di', but I can't remember which is which. Can anyone help me please?
Did they use half and quarter on the counting board anyway? Not in any of the pictures I've looked at.

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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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guthrie wrote:Did they use half and quarter on the counting board anyway? Not in any of the pictures I've looked at.
You've seen pictures of counting boards! :o I've never been able to find any.

In answer to your question, possibly not, however if they're using half and quater pennies on their accounts, how are they adding them up if the counting board doesn't handle them? I'd guess that the great exchequer doesn't deal with anything smaller than a pound, while a small shop-keeper may deal with farthings on a day to day basis, but then his counting board is scratched into the work bench isn't it?
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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Brother Ranulf wrote:Obol (ob.) was used for a half penny or a half anything - it's originally Greek but seems to have flowed through to medieval Latin and regularly appears in accounting records for a halfpenny. Niermeyer's Medieval Latin Lexicon gives obolata as a halfpenny worth of a commodity.

Di. is also from Greek (diatessaron) meaning a fourth or group of four. It appears in the New Latin Word List and the currently-in-production Dictionary of Medieval Latin.
Now, that is what I'd been told before, but reading "The King's Servants" last night, I found a reference to "di" indicating a half. I dug a bit more than and found in the Howard Household Accounts (Anne Crawford?) a note stating that "ob" was a quarter. Then I had a panic and asked here if people could help clarify things... ;(
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

Post by Normannis »

Hrmmm. We do some set pieces that tend to include coins (tax collection, doling out pay to mercenaries, etc. etc.) but never actually had someone use the echequer board. We did have someone making records of rents due and recieved though, and then had the coins thrown into the warchest. Unfortunately I think the audience when 'scrutinising' them significantly lightened the chest...

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Re: Medieval Accountancy

Post by Brother Ranulf »

Colin,

I have checked the entries in the Winchester Pipe Roll for Michelmas 1208 to Michelmas 1209 and the terms obol and quadrantes are definitely used for halfpennies and farthings throughout the Latin version of that record. Entries for expenses at the manor of Overton include just two payments involving obols: in comis III ob; in i corda in caretam iii ob. That's "for his attendant three halfpennies and for one rope for a cart three halfpennies" - here obol can only mean halfpennies, since the grand total comes to round pennies with no fractions remaining. If it meant farthings the total would have to end in a halfpenny.
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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Colin Middleton wrote:
guthrie wrote:Did they use half and quarter on the counting board anyway? Not in any of the pictures I've looked at.
You've seen pictures of counting boards! :o I've never been able to find any.

In answer to your question, possibly not, however if they're using half and quater pennies on their accounts, how are they adding them up if the counting board doesn't handle them? I'd guess that the great exchequer doesn't deal with anything smaller than a pound, while a small shop-keeper may deal with farthings on a day to day basis, but then his counting board is scratched into the work bench isn't it?
Usually pictures of pictures, and there's photos of some German ones and English designs in that book I mentioned in another thread on accountancy. I suppose it depends how far away you are from a good (or well funded {hahahahah[bastards making all the cuts]}) library that has it in stock.
Do you really need a counting board for 9 half pennies? can you not just add them up to 4 and carry the half?

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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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I'm planning on making a counting cloth for Tudor times. This is mainly for use teaching how to do sums in a school. I'm a little (vertically) woman, so I reckon in period, I'd be more able to make, carry and use one which is cloth rather than a solid board. I was thinking linen with not-very-black linen thread, but I'm wondering if that is robust enough for repeated sums. Also I'm trying to figure out the scale, what is practical given I'm likely to need to show the intermediate stages so could get up to eight counters on a ones row and some people might struggle with having them overlapping. Does anybody who uses a counting board have any tips before I get sewing?
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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aendr wrote:I'm planning on making a counting cloth for Tudor times. This is mainly for use teaching how to do sums in a school. I'm a little (vertically) woman, so I reckon in period, I'd be more able to make, carry and use one which is cloth rather than a solid board. I was thinking linen with not-very-black linen thread, but I'm wondering if that is robust enough for repeated sums. Also I'm trying to figure out the scale, what is practical given I'm likely to need to show the intermediate stages so could get up to eight counters on a ones row and some people might struggle with having them overlapping. Does anybody who uses a counting board have any tips before I get sewing?
Yes.
A surviving German version or two are made on felted wool. I suppose the tokens would slide well enough on smooth linen as well.
I was going to link to a certain livejournal post, but you have posted on it already! Clearly google is working alright.
The jettons are from Dave the Moneyer, I now have 50, about 20 or 30 should start you off okay, and the size of everything is sized to the jetton diameter. The letters are sewn on, yellow woollen cloth, and for money versus numbers you just have to imagine it as 1, 10, 100, rather than d, s, lb.
There proably isn't any need to change anything about it, unless more evidence appears.

Edited to add - practise before you go public, including as large sums as you can work out with the number of jettons.

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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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Brother Ranulf wrote:Colin,

I have checked the entries in the Winchester Pipe Roll for Michelmas 1208 to Michelmas 1209 and the terms obol and quadrantes are definitely used for halfpennies and farthings throughout the Latin version of that record. Entries for expenses at the manor of Overton include just two payments involving obols: in comis III ob; in i corda in caretam iii ob. That's "for his attendant three halfpennies and for one rope for a cart three halfpennies" - here obol can only mean halfpennies, since the grand total comes to round pennies with no fractions remaining. If it meant farthings the total would have to end in a halfpenny.
I know that it's an obvious question, but are you certain that means 3 halfpennies and not 3 pennies and 1 half penny? If it's the former, I may be reading the account all wrong... :cry:
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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guthrie wrote:Do you really need a counting board for 9 half pennies? can you not just add them up to 4 and carry the half?
Um, no I guess not. But then do you need it for 9 pennys or even larger values? Where should the line be drawn?

One of the things that I like about couunting boards is the you can 'see' the maths working. I can imagine your customer (in Ye Olde England) geting very upset when you work out his bill and then say "and the happenies total up to 4 and a half pence", because they can't SEE you do it, so 'obviously you're cheating them'.
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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Another entry for the expenses at the manor of Downton for the same period gives "for the purchase of 2 ropes, 3 pence". It seems logical to infer that one rope would be half of that - iii ob or a penny ha'penny. If the account had meant to specify 3 pennies and a half it would be written iii d i ob - there are many entries where exactly this kind of thing appears.

"Three ha'pence" was still common parlance in the late 1950s when I was at infants and junior school, being the price of school dinners for a week (I remember being confused myself about its meaning at the time, but it was definitely three x half pennies or a penny ha'penny).
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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I was going to suggest that Aendr use 2pence coins for ease of visibility. You do need at least 3 columns for doing sums in.

Colin you're probably right insofar as they would get stroppy if they don't see it done in front of them. And perhaps it's a late medieval thing, but the Germanic counting cloths didn't have half pences marked on them. There isn't anything to stop you marking half pences on yours, or you can just use the lines unmarked as tens of pence.

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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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Brother Ranulf wrote:Another entry for the expenses at the manor of Downton for the same period gives "for the purchase of 2 ropes, 3 pence". It seems logical to infer that one rope would be half of that - iii ob or a penny ha'penny. If the account had meant to specify 3 pennies and a half it would be written iii d i ob - there are many entries where exactly this kind of thing appears.

"Three ha'pence" was still common parlance in the late 1950s when I was at infants and junior school, being the price of school dinners for a week (I remember being confused myself about its meaning at the time, but it was definitely three x half pennies or a penny ha'penny).
I had a horrible feeling that might be the case. I have some serious re-reading to do now...

Guthrie, that's what I figured. All the pictures are a large boards or cloths, clearly designed to handle large amounts of money. I don't have an opportunity to use something of that scale, which is a pity. I agree about 3 columns being more useful, but I've never seen one with 3 in any pictures (not that I've seen many pictures).

Best wishes

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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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3 columns is the minimum, but chequered boards obviously have lots more, probably 8 or 10 like a chessboard, and the German sourced cloth I use has 4.

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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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Guthrie: thank you for your reply (partly to the blog posting, I see...)
Do you think wool stands up better than linen to the usage? I could get some wool to do the job, instead.
As for practise, yes, I have been - challenged by my colleagues during breaks.
Regarding size, how many jetons across would you make each column?
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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How sharp are your jettons? I seriously doubt that you will wear any material out unless you make it out of paper or sharpen your jetton edges so they can cut anything. The original German example was felt or highly fulled wollen cloth.
The columns are baout 5.5 jettons across, but I don't care about overlapping them, and if you are using them for lb s d you need a maximum of 5 in a row for pennies to shillings, and 9 in a row for shillings to pounds, because you can use the bit inbetween the lines for half a shilling or half a pound, i.e. 6 pennies or 10 shillings. Hence the height depends on jetton diameter as well, the horizontal lines being two jettons apart.

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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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When it comes to images, this is what I found that had references

http://www.math.tamu.edu/~dallen/hollyw ... lculus.htm - a reference to a book by Adam Riese (1492-1559).
http://nsm1.nsm.iup.edu/gsstoudt/histor ... gphil.html Margarita Philosophica, Gregor Reisch - 2 column board shown
http://mathdl.maa.org/mathDL/46/?pa=con ... odeId=2168 - a table in Strasbourg - 4 column board, with a 2 column on the following page.

I agree that 3 columns makes more sense than 2 - for 2 inputs and 1 output - despite the pictures mostly showing 2.
What would you use the fourth for? The remainder in division? Storage of an answer?
For an exchequer, one would need a lot more...
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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I didn't think most of the pictures showed only 2 columns. I have a facsimile of Reobrt Record's book ion arithmetic, and it has a bit on counting cloths, using anything from 2 to 6 columns. More than 3 columns allows you to add or subtract even more and leave the calculation laid out as you have done it, rather than messing it all up.

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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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I shall qualify that to "most of the pictures I have found so far".

Guthrie, assuming you are the author of calcinations, and you refer to using the counting cloth at Kentwell in 2011 and "next year" (though I didn't spot you there this year when I was visiting during the day), are you likely to be using it next year? Given I wish to use one next year (2013), I should probably coordinate with your style a little just to prevent inconsistency. Practising with tuppenies is a good idea, though I shall need proper jetons eventually.
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

Post by davetmoneyer »

hi for loads of photos of original casting boards/cloths, and contempory illustrations you need
'the casting counter and the counting board' by F.P.Barnard published by Fox of Castle Cary 1981
isbn 0-907498-00-0
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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aendr wrote:I agree that 3 columns makes more sense than 2 - for 2 inputs and 1 output - despite the pictures mostly showing 2.
What would you use the fourth for? The remainder in division? Storage of an answer?
For an exchequer, one would need a lot more...
Looking at the pictures that you've show, I'm guessing that what you get is 2 columns, each 10 (or so) jettons long, with a marker in the middle, to give you 4 columns of 5. If you're doing addition or subtraction, with numbers, you can either use the columns full width, or the 'half rows' and only use upto 5 on a row. If you're doing multiplication, you use column 1 at full with to store the 'result', then use column 2.1 to store the multiplier and column 2.2 to store the remainder, both at half width. That gives you room to work in the first column, while giving you the necessary 3 columns to do multiplication.

I think that an exchequer board works rather differently. You need quite large squares on that, so that you can 'pile' counters into them, with each column representing a customer/supplier/account/whatever. You probably also want a counting board next to you to do the maths.

I tend to think of the counting board as a calculator, and the exchequer board as the account book or spreadsheet.

Oh, and thankyou for those pictures.
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Re: Medieval Accountancy

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Colin Middleton wrote:
Brother Ranulf wrote:Another entry for the expenses at the manor of Downton for the same period gives "for the purchase of 2 ropes, 3 pence". It seems logical to infer that one rope would be half of that - iii ob or a penny ha'penny. If the account had meant to specify 3 pennies and a half it would be written iii d i ob - there are many entries where exactly this kind of thing appears.

"Three ha'pence" was still common parlance in the late 1950s when I was at infants and junior school, being the price of school dinners for a week (I remember being confused myself about its meaning at the time, but it was definitely three x half pennies or a penny ha'penny).
I had a horrible feeling that might be the case. I have some serious re-reading to do now...
I decided to apply your method to the Howard Accounts to check Anne's assertion that di is a half.

I found this entry (Howard Household Books, Book 1 , film 166):
Item, my mastyre delyvered the same ferst day of June be my lordys comaundement to Robart Takell, to Robart Folmarston and to John Warde vj. yerds and iij. quarters of cremysen owt of greyne, prise the yesr iiij.s. x.d.,
summa, xxxij.s.s vij.d. ob.
Doing the maths, 6 and 3 quarter yards at 4 shillings and 10 pence per yard gives 32 shillings and 7 and a half pence. So, ob must be a happeny, rather than a quarter as she asserts.

I have a nasty feeling that they're using di as a half in 'The King's Servants' too... :shifty:

Thank you for your help.
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