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An Abbreviated History of Accounting –Covering the Cool Bits. (you heard it right)

Brought to you by your pal, Michael Weissenfluh

The Lebombo Bone is a piece of the fibula of a

baboon, found near Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains between South Africa and Swaziland. It is marked with 29 clearly defined notches. This suggests it may have been used as a lunar phase counter. This also suggests it may have been created by a woman. You know what I’m saying. This is first accounting tool in the form of a rudimentary “tally stick”. WOW! c. 35000 BCE


Unknown, Pubic Domain , Accessed 10-6-12,

Lebombo Bone

Ishango Bone Another baboon bone? The Ishango Bone shows that : • Things progressed kind of slow the last 17000 years or so • These notches representing numbers may not be purely random and instead suggest some understanding of the principle of multiplication and division by two. • Prehistoric people love their baboon bones and conversely if you were a baboon you might have wanted to stay in the damn tree.

c. 18000 BCE


Image Courtesy of Science Museum of Brussels

Before writing, there were Accounting Tokens.

Image provided courtesy of Denise Schmandt-Besserat and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Each shape represents a specific quantity of a specific commodity. And were used to keep track of inventory. The Mesopotamian tokens shown above were found at Tepe Gawra, in present day Iraq. The cone, spheres, and flat disc are measures of cereals: smallest, larger, and Cocoa Puffs. The tetrahedron is a unit of work, or the amount of work performed by one man in one day. c. 4000 BCE


These tokens are . from Tello, ancient Girsu, present day Iraq. Top row from LtoR they represent: one measure of wheat, one iPad, one jar of oil and one length of textile. bottom row from L to R: one sheep, one length of rope, one ingot of metal, one garment. c. 3300 BCE

Image provided courtesy of Denise Schmandt-Besserat and Musée du Louvre, Département des Antiquités 5 Orientales.

Cuneiform Pictographs Recording the Allocation of Beer -Iran

Courtesy of the British Museum 3100 BCE


Quipus sometimes called talking knots, were recording devices historically used in the region of Andean South America. A quipu usually consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings from llama or alpaca or 80’s rock band hair. The cords contained numeric and other values encoded by knots in a base ten positional system. Quipus might have just a few or up to 2,000 cords.

But this is only a theory, no one knows for sure how to decipher them. c. 3000-BCE - 1450 CE


By UnknownJanmad (JanmadOwn work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Scribe, the early accountant This seated cross-legged scribe, with a papyrus on his knees, is from the 5th dynasty of Egypt. Scribes were considered part of the royal court and did not have to pay tax or join the military or have to perform heavy manual labor (which accountants still avoid today).

I knew hieroglyphics. This is the one for a scribe.

I used to have a haircut just like this.

c. 2500-2350 BCE


Balance sheet of a State-owned farm, prepared by a scribe and showing a detailed accounting of raw materials and workdays for a

basket maker.

From Mesopotamia!

c. 2040 BCE


The Salamis Tablet The precursor to the abacus was a “counting board� which is a piece of wood, stone or metal with carved grooves or painted lines between which beads, pebbles or metal discs were moved. The Salamis Tablet is from Babylonia, dispelling the common belief that the abacus was invented by the Chinese. Little known fact is that they used the Tablet to make Salamis Sandwiches too. Photo from the National Museum of Epigraphy, Athens.

c. 300 BCE


The Roman Abacus This represents the Roman Numeral MMMMCMXCIX …not really, I have no idea.

Used to keep track of the finances in the far flung Roman Empire, the Roman abacus, not surprisingly using Roman Numerals could be used to count in the millions. c. 1 CE

By Photographer: Mike Cowlishaw (aus der englischen Wikipedia) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Accountants in Art

Roman marble slab showing a couple on the left with huge vats of wine, slaves carrying amphorae and MOST IMPORTANTLY an accountant at a counter. c. Mid 2nd Century CE 12

The “Modern� Abacus During the 11th century, the Chinese abacus, or suan pan, was invented. It may be the earliest abacus with beads on rods. The Mandarin term suan pan means calculating plate. A suan pan has 2 beads above a middle divider called a beam (a.k.a. reckoning bar) and 5 beads below. So beautiful and perfect it has not changed in 2000 years.

c, 11 CE

6,302,715,408 really this time! Article for "abacus", 9th edition Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 1 (1875)13{{PD}}

Hey now, accountants have a patron saint.

I’ve got your back.

Who, you ask? St. Matthew, one of the original 12 apostles, that’s all. He was a tax collector for the Romans until Jesus gave him a new gig.

c.30 CE


Even the Bible tells you to listen to accountants Luke 14:28

I’m an evangelist, not an accountant. Don’t ask me.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” c. 75 to 100 CE

By Byzantinischer Maler des 10. Jahrhunderts [Public domain], via 15 Wikimedia Commons

The Domesday Book This book is the record of a survey of much of England and parts of Wales completed for William the Conqueror (or sometimes more hilariously known as William the Bastard). One of the main purposes of the survey was to determine who held what and what taxes had been liable under Edward the Confessor (The Bastard’s predecessor). The object of the survey was to record the economic rights of the Bastard.


ByCornischong at lb.wikipedia (Birmingham 1066-1625 Transferred from lb.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons


The Pipe Rolls The oldest surviving accounting record in the English language is the Pipe Roll, or "Great Roll of the Exchequer," which provides an annual description of rents, fines and taxes due to the King of England. It was the final record on parchment of a "proffer" system of tally sticks.

They are called pipe rolls because when they were rolled up they looked like a pipe. Duh. c. 1130-1830


Tally Sticks

c. 1300


Not made of baboon bones!!

ŠThe National Archives, Kew.


ŠThe National Archives, Kew.

Tally sticks served as records or receipts for financial transactions such as the payment of taxes, debts and fines. From the 12th century they were officially employed by the Exchequer of England to collect the King’s taxes. The depth and series of notches on these sticks represented the value of the transaction. In recording a debt, wooden sticks were often split horizontally into two parts: the lender receiving one part, the stock; and the debtor, the other part, the foil. England abolished the use of tally sticks approximately 1830. There is no record on the abolishment of baboon bones. 19

This is Luca Pacioli, the “Father of Accounting”

I am nobody, I’m just photobombing the painting.


1494 Pacioli, 1494 Summa, Public Domain Image,

This is the book he wrote. The name of this masterpiece is‌‌ 21

Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita * – English - (Everything about Arithmetic, Geometry, and Proportion) , written by Pacioli in 1494, is a massive tome containing details of mathematics of the time, of which a small part was about accounting. *side note, this was one of the first books mass produced on 22 the Gutenberg printing press

The 36 chapters in the Summa dealing with double-entry bookkeeping is called:

De computis et scripturis – English (Of Reckonings and Writings) This is the basic concept that he codified, which was so perfect and elegant that it has remained unchanged for over 500 years…….. Wait for it….


At this time the widespread use of Arabic numbers made accounting much easier than using Roman Numerals.


Little known fact. Luca Pacioli was a close friend of Leonardo da Vinci. They lived together and collaborated on many projects over many years. da Vinci did all the illustrations in Pacioli’s books, and Pacioli did the mathematics and perspective studies for da Vinci paintings, including The Last Supper. Rhombicuboctahedron was one of sixty illustrations by Leonardo da Vinci, that appeared in the Divina Proportione by Luca Pacioli By Creator:C.P.M. gay folla piedras (Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 25

This is Matthaus Schwarz, accountant for one of the richest banking clans during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He must have been a damn fine accountant. His employer was known as Jakob Fugger: The Rich

I love to play dress up. See the next panel.

Matthaus tried to one up Pacioli, by coming up with “Threefold” accounting.

…it didn’t take.

c. 1500


Matthaus commissioned pictures of himself at every stage of life and what he wore at the time. For no known reason he also commissioned nudes (front and back).

27 Biography of M. Schwarz; Herzog-Anton-Ulrich-Museum Braunschweig[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Accountants in Art

“A man sitting in a room doing his accounts�

There is nothing wrong with Swiss Bank Accounts.

Marten van Heemskerck



Accountants in Art

“Untitled”? How about “Accounting Stud”



Accountants in Art

Dear Accounting Stud……



Nicolaes Maes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Accountants in Art

Quill pens were used to write the vast majority of medieval manuscripts in addition to the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. c. 1725

I wish they would invent the mechanical pencil already.


An ugly side to accounting‌ “Charges and net proceed of 118 new slaves," bookkeeping entry from ledger of the firm of Austin & Laurens, Charleston, South Carolina, recording purchases and sales, and including accounts relating to sale of slaves by the firm.

c. 1754-1755

By Austin & Laurens, Charleston, South Carolina [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons32

In which Accountants get serious. (well, more serious‌)


Image courtesy ICAS, under Fair Use standards

Up to this point there was no professional organizations , certification of abilities or ethical oversight for accountants. That changed with the formation of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), the world's first professional body of accountants. Soon thereafter accountants in most other countries followed suit. Not unexpectedly, there is almost zero cooperation between international associations, nor is there any consistency with rules and regulations.


Coca Cola Company. Coca Cola Logo. Accessed 10-5-12

Frank Mason Robinson was the bookkeeper for The Pemberton Chemical Company which developed the soft drink formula. He gave it the name Coca-Cola, and it’s distinctive Spencerian script which was popular with bookkeepers in the day. Side note: There was always debate about that claim so the logo itself has no currently copyrightable authorship since its exact creator is unknown. In any case, the trademarked Coca-Cola logo was published numerous times in the United States before 1923, and so is now ineligible for copyright.

A creative accountant!! 1886


Yay, income taxes! Since the US government created an income source, they could now fund wars and start building an enormous bureaucracy. Years later, a gentleman named Mitt Romney would teach us about how to minimize our tax liabilities. But in the meantime‌.



Who took down notorious bad boy Al Capone?

The letter that did it.

‌.an accountant by the name of Frank J. Wilson. Elliot Ness was a pussy compared to this guy.



The U.S. Social Security Administration accounting operations during the issuing of Social Security Numbers and the creation of earnings records on all Americans covered by Social Security was the largest bookkeeping operation in the history of the world. 1936

Kill me...

“This is the best job !” – said no one ever.

Why no, this “chair” is not comfortable.

By US Social Security Administration ( [Public domain], via 37 Wikimedia Commons

Even death can’t reconcile his bank account.

You do NOT want to screw up his books.

July, 1944



It’s no baboon bone, but the introduction of the IBM- PC changed the lives of accountants everywhere, and in a good way. No longer did accountants have to use a typewriter and adding machine for everything. It is the equivalent of the invention of fire or the wheel, or pocket protectors. That is my dog Chester. 1981

By Ruben de Rijcke (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


This is VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program. When these were invented, accountants all over the world knew there was a God. You can never have too much eye snuff or toe toner.



GNU General Public License

THE ACCOUNTANT’S BRAIN Store of Pithy Tax Jokes Belief that Luca Pacioli is a God

Fashion Sense

How to tie a Windsor Knot

Receding hairline The abacus is the most wonderful device ever

Fascination with baboon bones

Exciting Part Sense of humor

Creativity Interest in Accounting History Repressed Sexuality

List of every episode of Babylon 5 with plot synopsis History and lore of the pocket protector


I know you want to know about accounting scandals. However, it is too painful to discuss. Instead, I present a WordleŠ which sadly, emphasizes accounting firms that sucked at being good accountants.



“So it has come to this. The global biodiversity crisis is so severe that brilliant scientists, political leaders, eco-warriors, and religious gurus can no longer save us from ourselves. The military are powerless. But there

…and you thought that Notary Publics were cool.

may be one last hope for life on earth: accountants.” -The Guardian, 06-12 reporting about the Nayoga Biodiversity Summit 43

Thanks for reading. 44

History of Accounting  

History of Accounting