History of Accounting

Beyond Luca Pacioli

In 1543, it is believed that the first book on accounting to be published in English was by John Gough. Entitled “Debtor and Creditor”, it was portrayed as “A Profitable Treatyce”.

In 1588, John Mellis of Southwark published a book which consisted of a series of instructions based on accounting principles. He refers to the fact that his book makes use of ancient copies of a manuscript printed in August 1543 by a schoolmaster called Hugh Oldcastle, who was a schoolmaster and taught Arithmetic. Mellis draws attention to the fact that the accounting principles he refers to are “after the former of Venice”, a clear reference to Luca Pacioli. The principles to which Mellis ascribed were, in fact, a simple system of double entry.

In 1635, Richard Dafforne, an accountant, published a book which was described as “The Merchants Mirrour”, or alternatively as “directions for the perfect ordering and keeping of his (the merchant) accounts formed by way of Debitor and Creditor”. Dafforne makes reference to a number of early books on the subject of accountancy. There is a chapter entitled “Opinion of Book-keeping's Antiquity" in which he refers to the fact that, on a fellow writer’s authority, the principles of bookkeeping referred to had been used and applied for over two hundred years in Italy. On the other hand, he makes it clear that the same, or very similar principles, had been in use during the time of Julius Caesar and, long before that, they were formed the basis of daily trading in Rome. Further, he offers a series of bookkeeping terms, written in Latin, that implied that the principles were in use in ancient times. He makes reference to the publication Naturalis Historiae Plinii, lib. 2, cap. 7, from which he makes reference to the following passage: "That the one side of their booke was used for Debitor, the other for Creditor, is manifest in a certain place”.

There is evidence to suggest that an early Dutch writer had reason to believe that the process of double entry bookkeeping was in existence during the time of the early Greeks. He used this fact to reinforce the argument that accountancy was first used in ancient times.

Richard Dafforne's book came to be published in a number of editions, viz. the original in 1635, a second edition in 1636, a third in 1656 and a final edition in 1684. The book, in fact, is an extremely concise study of the principles and practices of accountancy. It is presented most exquisitely and includes both detailed and well laid out explanations. The fact that there were so many editions points to the fact that accountancy was held in high regard during the seventeenth century. Subsequent to this period, there was a steady stream of publications relating to the subject. In a number of cases, the authors portrayed themselves as accountants and exponents/teachers of the subject, which opened the way for the rise of the professional accountant whose status and income increased in proportion.

Accounting – How To Succeed

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Peter Radford writes Articles with Websites on a wide range of subjects. Accounting Articles cover Background, Historical, Double Entry, Accounting Software and Applications.

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