Medieval Tally Sticks

        These sticks recorded expenses for illiterate servants and masters.  As money or goods changed hands, the tally sticks were carved with v-shaped grooves for "pounds," rounded grooves for "shillings," and slices for "pence."  At the end of a transaction, the stick would be split lengthwise and divided between the debtor and the creditor to be held until the debt was paid.  A scribe might be paid to write a sanctifying prayer on one side, or to record in prose the sum represented on the stick and the persons represented in the transaction, but that message would be decipherable only for a small segment of the population.  Everyone could "read" the notches on the stick.

        To read more about medieval financial technology, see Dave Birch's "Tallies and Technology" at the Journal of Internet Banking and Commerce.  To see a definition of the names for early English currency, click here.  As Birch points out, tally sticks were saved in the Parliamentary archives until the early Nineteenth Century, when the decision was made to burn them because they had been outmoded by paper record-keeping.  The result was a fire which destroyed the Houses of Parliament and produced some excellent paintings by J.M.W. Turner.