Origins of double-entry bookkeeping

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How did double-entry bookkeeping start?

The double entry bookkeeping system is a set of rules that are commonly used for recording financial information for a financial accounting system. Its origins can be traced back to Florence, Italy, around eight hundred years ago. Fragments of a Florentine banker’s account book, dated to 1211, are considered to be the earliest evidence of use of the double entry bookkeeping system.

Nearly three hundred years later, an Italian monk named Luca Paciolo published a book on mathematics which included information about bookkeeping. Paciolo wrote 36 chapters in his book, “Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita”, explaining how double entry bookkeeping worked. He doesn’t claim to have invented the double entry system; rather, he describes the ‘method employed in Venice’. However, it’s inclusion in his book has resulted in him being commonly recognised as the author of the first double entry bookkeeping text published.

Paciolo’s text is believed to be predated by Benedotto Cotrugli’s double entry bookkeeping book written in 1458 – it (and possibly other manuscripts) circulated the Italian city states as handwritten documents during the 15th century. However, it wasn’t published until 1573 so Paciolo’s claim to the earliest published bookkeeping text remains true.

For more information, read Canham Rogers post on the subject here.

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