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ICAEW’s rare book collection: celebrating the Melekh manuscript

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 23 May 2022

May marks the 50th anniversary of the rebinding of one of ICAEW’s rarest books, dating back to 1494, part of the rare book collection looked after by ICAEW’s Library and Information Service.

The ‘Melekh manuscript’ was discovered when the Hebrew parchment that had been used as a temporary binding for one of ICAEW’s copies of the Summa de Arithmetica by Luca Pacioli (1494), was rebound in May 1972. The Institute had bought both copies of the book in Prague in 1913 – it is the earliest known book about double-entry bookkeeping, so of great interest to accountants worldwide.

The parchment cover had long been the source of interest, with lines of Hebrew text clearly visible on the worn cover. But in 1972, when that copy of Summa de Arithmetica was rebound and the parchment cover removed, a Jewish manuscript with a devotional poem from the 15th century, which had been hidden for almost 500 years, was revealed.

The manuscript was translated by G A Lee, who dated it to the 15th century, most likely of German or Central European origin. The first word in the manuscript is ‘Melekh’ (‘O King’) – hence the name given to the manuscript. It has since become one of the most unusual items in ICAEW’s extensive collection of rare books.

“Library staff at ICAEW have always taken great pride in the Melekh manuscript – it holds a special place as one of the unexpected highlights of our collection,” comments Alice Laird, Manager in ICAEW’s Library and Information team.

While it’s not currently on public display, you can find more information as well as a selection of images online. It can also be viewed at Chartered Accountants' Hall by prior arrangement with the library team.

ICAEW’s rare books collection

The manuscript is one of more than 3,500 items in ICAEW’s Historical accounting literature collection. Volumes date from as early as 1480 through to the 20th century and comprise 23, mainly European, languages. Laird is responsible for ensuring that the rare books are catalogued and are safely cared for, balancing this with her other roles in providing material to support the current information needs of accountants.

ICAEW has been acquiring early works on accountancy for over 130 years and has one of the finest collections in the world, providing members and researchers with opportunities for understanding the development of accounting and bookkeeping over more than five centuries. As well as two copies of Summa de arithmetica, the collection also holds the earliest extant original work on accounting in the English language, The maner and fourme how to kepe a perfecte reconying by Peele (1553).

Find out more

Researchers can learn more about the collection, search the rare books catalogue and turn the pages of some of the rarest items online.

ICAEW’s Library & Information Service provides an enquiry and information service, together with a world-class collection of books, journals and electronic resources on accountancy and business.

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