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Renaissance accounting tome raises $1.2m in New York

The Summa de Arithmetica, a rare 15th century book explaining the principles of accountancy, has been sold to an anonymous buyer for $1.2m (£0.9m) at Christie’s in New York.

The tome, printed in Venice in 1494 – by Franciscan friar, mathematician, and friend of artist Leonardo da Vinci, Luca Pacioli – contains the first published description of double-entry bookkeeping.

The text, which includes mathematics and computing, is also seen as a practical guide on how to succeed in business.

Alice Laird, cataloguing taxonomy manager at ICAEW – which has in its possession two copies of the text – said that Pacioli’s description of double-entry bookkeeping is “critical in the development of the accounting profession as we know it today”.

Pacioli included all of the mathematical knowledge available at the time, a period in which European thinkers adopted and synthesised Hindu-Arabic mathematics with rediscovered ancient Greek concepts.

“As Leonardo and others made revolutionary strides in art, and Machiavelli did for politics, so too did Pacioli for business,” said Christina Gieger, head of Christie’s Books & Manuscripts in New York.

“From double-entry bookkeeping to probability theory and computing, the mathematical principles of the most vital features of contemporary finance are all present in the Summa de Arithmetica,” she added.

Originally published in Economia on 28 June 2019.