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The oldest book in the ICAEW collection

ICAEW has been collecting early works on accountancy for over 100 years and has one of the finest collections in the world, spanning the 15th century to the early 20th century.

The collection includes a copy of the earliest known printed book about double-entry book-keeping, Summa de arithmetica by Luca Pacioli (1494)

However – this famous volume is NOT the oldest book in the library. That honour goes to Questo e el libro che tracta di mercatantie et usanze de paesi, the last page recording that it was published in ‘MCCCCLXXXI. INFIRENZE’ (i.e. 1481, Florence). The book is a small, unassuming volume that has been part of the ‘rare books’ collection for years but has attracted very little attention.

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Questo e el libro che tracta di mercatantie et usanze de paesi

The meaning of the title is ‘Book about the merchandise and customs of countries’. Written in Italian and intended for merchants, it is also known as a ‘tariff’ that merchants would use as a compendium of relative weights, measures and currencies when travelling and doing business with various European cities. The book provides and compares prices for a long list of cities in Italy and other major trading centres of Europe. There is no author named in the book but it is usually attributed to Giorgio di Lorenzo Chiarini. This 1481 edition is the first printed version of the work.

The book is very important to ICAEW’s collection as it was clearly used as a source by Pacioli when he was writing his Summa de arithmetica. Pacioli includes a chapter on tariffs in his book and it is obvious that a large part of this chapter is a copy of Chiarini’s earlier work. Some parts of the copy are in a rather garbled order, as if they were copied incorrectly without care or understanding.

Historical Accounting Literature

The ICAEW collection of historical accounting literature currently comprises around 3,000 volumes and includes works published from the 15th century to the early 20th century. The collection includes books and journals in a variety of languages.

Find out more about the collection and its history.