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This Dialogue Concerning the Exchequer is a fascinating account, translated from the Latin, of the workings of the Exchequer c1180.

This segment of the dialogue concerned the Maker of the Tallies (my bold).

As to the Maker of Tallies

How at the head of the second seat the serjeant of the chamberlains comes first, a clerk or a layman, whose office can briefly be disposed of; in word, however, not in deed.

He brings forth from the treasury the tallies against the sheriff or against him who renders account; and, when it is necessary, according as the manner of accounting demands, he changes or diminishes or adds to the tally, comparing it with the counter tally of the sheriff.

This having been done at the Easter term, he gives back the longer one to the sheriff to bring again at the Michaelmas term. But at the Michaelmas term, when the amount of it shall have been put down in writing in the roll, he hands this same longer one to the marshal to put in his box.

D. I wonder at thy saying that a tally once offered for an account, should again be offered for another account.

M. Do not wonder; for with regard to whatever has been exacted, or paid by the sheriff at the Easter term, he must again be summoned; not, indeed, in order that what has been paid should be paid again, but that the sheriffs shall present themselves to give account, and that the tally offered for the payment previously made may be reduced to writing in the roll, and that thus he may be absolved from his debt.

For so long as he has the tally in his possession, he will not be acquitted but will always be liable to be summoned.

D. And all this seems necessary. But proceed, if it please thee, concerning the offices.

M. Nay, since we have made mention of tallies, learn in a few words what the process is in which the matter of tallying consists. There is, then, one kind of tally which is called simply tally; another, which we call memoranda tally.

The length of an ordinary tally is from the top of the forefinger to the top of the extended thumb; there it is perforated with a moderate borer.

But a memoranda which is always accustomed to be made for a blank farm is a little shorter; for when the assay is made through which the farm is blanched, that first one is broken, and the tally of combustion being added to it, it then first merits the length of a tally.

The incision, moreover, is made in this way: At the top they put 1000£, in such way that its notch has the thickness of the palm; 100£, of the thumb; 20£, of the ear; the notch of one pound, about of a swelling grain of barley; but that of a shilling, less; in such wise, nevertheless, that, a space being cleared out by cutting, a moderate furrow shall be made there; the penny is marked by the incision being made, but no wood being cut away.

On the side where the 1000 is cut thou cost not put another number, unless, perhaps, the middle part of it; in such wise that thou in like manner cost tale away the middle part of its notch and cost place it below.

(1) Just so if 100£ is to be cut in, and thou hast no thousands, thou shalt do the same; and if 20£, the same; and if 20 shillings, which we call a pound.

But if many thousands or hundreds or twenties of pounds are to be cut in, the same law shall be observed, so that on the more open side of the tally, that is, that which is placed directly before thee, a mark being made, the greater number shall be cut Abut on the other, the lesser; but on the obverse side, is always the greater number at the top, but on the converse always the lesser, that is, the pence.

For a mark of silver there is no special notch at the exchequer, but we designate it in shillings. But a mark of gold thou cost cut in the middle of the tally as though it were one pound.

But one gold piece is not cut altogether like a silver piece, but by drawing the knife directly through the middle of the tally; not obliquely, as in the case of the silver piece.

Thus, therefore, both, the arrangement of the positions and the difference of cut, determines what is gold and what is silver. But thou shalt learn all this more conveniently by looking at it than by hearing of it.

D. What remains of this will be made clear by ocular demonstration. Now, if it please thee, proceed concerning the offices.

M. After him, as we said above, a few discreet men who are delegated by the king coming in between, sits he who, by command of the king makes computations by the placing of coins used as counters.

This office indeed is perplexing and laborious enough; and, without it, seldom or never could the business of the exchequer be carried on; but it belongs officially to none of those who sit there, but to him to whom the king or the Justice shall give it to fill. Laborious, I say, for other offices are filled by the tongue or the hand, this by both; in it "the hand, the tongue and the eye, and the mind are unwearied in labour."

Note that there was a difference between two types of tally, one being known as a 'memoranda' tally.

As the tally accounting system developed over the centuries, we saw the use of these two types of tally develop.

The memoranda tally - as I understand it - constituted a receipt for value received against an existing obligation (eg like a receipt given by a shop as evidence of payment).

The tally accounted for debit and credit obligations (this is of course single-entry book-keeping which pre-dated double-entry book-keeping) with the 'stock' portion being issued as a sovereign IOU returnable in payment of tax obligations to be matched against the counter-stock or foil.

The problem has been that the description of tallies as memoranda/receipts has become the only accepted one, and their use as sovereign credit instruments has been conveniently forgotten.

As here

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Mar 22nd, 2012 at 04:17:05 PM EST

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