Bookkeeping through the ages

I collect old bookkeeping books and related paraphernalia. (How often do you get to spell paraphernalia? Good times.) The header image on the Cathy Keeps Books home page is a snapshot of a beautiful handwritten ledger out of Niswonger and Fess’s Accounting Principles (10th ed.), published by South-Western in 1969. The book itself is very snazzy and mod. The bad picture of the bank draft on About is from Bookkeeping and Business Practice, published by the American Book Company in 1895. (Full title: Williams and Rogers Series Bookkeeping and Business Practice, Introductory Course, Rational Method of Presenting the Science of Accounts and Illustrating the Customs of Business. For Use in Business Colleges.)

Another favorite, Depreciation: History and Concepts in the Bell System (copyright American Telephone and Telegraph Company, 1957—that’s right, so long ago that Bell and AT&T were the same thing), contains this introduction:

Here is a book which it was a pleasure to read. But, you say, how can it be a pleasure to read any book about depreciation? Isn’t that a deadly subject? . . . Yes, depreciation deals with the death of machinery, electrical equipment, cables, wires and many other kinds of plant. Yet this book is not deadly. On the contrary, it is lively—perhaps it is the only lively book ever written on depreciation.

Why is this so? Because the search through old files and library catalogues, and most of the writing, were done by a man who has lived with depreciation for 30 years . . . This sort of life leads to ulcers or early retirement unless a well balanced sense of humor comes to the rescue.

Finally, a word from the authors of A Practical System of Book-Keeping By Single and Double Entry (etc.), A.S. Barnes & Co., 1852. They conclude their foreword with this bit of poetry.

With these explanatory remarks the authors cast this work into that mighty stream issuing from the press, believing that it is not so trashy as to float with its froth, nor so incomprehensibly profound as to sink into its mire.

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