Wednesday, September 12, 2012

18th Century Accounting 101

Remember Accounting 101? Debits, Credits and all that financial stuff?  18th Century account books also used that same method of accounting for goods and services.  I sell you this, you pay me that.  The tailor's book of Mr. Gould kept track of his transactions in a very effective and easily understood way.

Mr. Gould used a plain unlined notebook, the left side for the name of the customer, the date of the transaction and the cost for goods and services provided, listed in pounds (£), shillings and pence.

The right side of the notebook was used to note payment, both partial and full and the dates those payments were made, also in pounds (£), shillings and pence.

The totals on each side were balanced, though it was not unusual to see payments made in a series of entries over time.

What makes the entries fascinating, on so many levels, is what they can teach us about 18th century life, not only from the clothing/textile perspective, but from the relative value and measures of commodities and other services used in payment.  Cash, of course, is always good, and could consist of colonial money, British currency and the foreign coinage of many nations, especially the Dutch and Spanish coins.   But it is the payments using methods other than cash that are the most interesting for us.  (Mr. Gould probably liked the cash!)

Looking at the credit side of the account book we see that Mr. Gould was paid in the following manner.

August 29, 1772  -- A kintle of codfish = 18 £  
August 23, 1771 -- A gallon of rum = 5 £  
December 7, 1772 --  A 1/2 hundred sugar = 25 £
August 7, 1771 --  2 half barrels of beef = 8 £  
August 15, 1771 -- A quarter of "rise" (rice) = 6 £  
December 28, 1772 --  Cordwood = 18 £  
August 23, 1771 --  1 dozen pipes = 1 £, 4 shillings
October 17, 1772 --  16 silver basket buttons = 11 £, 13 shillings, 4 pence  

Other items he was paid with included molasses, chocolate, Indian corn, lobsters, flour, silver straps, gold cord, and "by sundries at Capt John Kilburn shop".

Mr. Gould had a consistent charge of 7 £ for the making of a pair of breeches.  Would you be willing to make a pair for a 1.4 gallons of rum?  How many codfish in a kintle?  Any ideas?


  1. This is really interesting material. Thanks for posting it! I assume he was making his calculations using some sort of debased colonial currency (Rhode Island?)- otherwise his prices are shockingly high. My baseline for wages at this period is a sailor in the Royal Navy. They were making 24 shillings (sterling) each lunar month, or 1 pound 4 shillings. At that rate, it would take 6 months' pay to make a pair of breeches!

    I think "kintle" is a phonetic spelling of quintal, the standard measurement for fish in the period. It usually equalled a hundredweight (not, as you might suppose, 100 pounds, but 112 pounds). As for how many fish were in a quintal, I guess that depends on the size of the fish.

    Thanks again for the great posts.

    Matt Brenckle

  2. A "kintle" seems to be 100lbs in weight

    1. The actual value of the money is really a question mark, (hopefully someone with more numismatic knowledge than myself will help figure it out), the values of the other commodities as payment against the pound is fascinating. Hallie