PROFESSOR OF ACCOUNTING HISTORY UNIVERSITY OF PISA
THE PISAN DOCUMENT OF PHILADELPHIA (La Carta Pisana di Filadelfia)*
Until recently the oldest known specimen of account was con-sidered to be one from the year 1211, contained on the fragments of two parchment sheets that were originally part of a book belong-ing to Florentine bankers operating in Bologna.1 This early Floren-tine document contains a series of accounting items relating to loans of money at interest. The items appeared without separation between them or the use of columns for stating the values. As an important early document written in vernacular Italian, this account was published in 1887 in the Historical Journal of Italian Literature by Pietro Santini.2 Subsequently it was researched by Fabio Besta, who in his treatise, Accountancy (La Ragioneria),3 emphaisized its value with respect to accounting. The fact that no similar document was found over many years supported the opinion that it was the oldest example of European bookkeeping.
We are now able to back date the origin of bookkeeping by al-most a century through the fortunate discovery of a specimen drawn up at the end of the 11th century or in the first decade of the 12th century by a Pisan shipbuilder to record expenditures in-curred in the building or repairing of a galley. This account is the so-called Pisan document of Philadelphia (La Carta Pisana di Fila-delfia) preserved in the Free Library of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was published in the journal, Studi di Filologia Italiana in 1973 by its discoverer, Ignazio Baldelli, professor of history of grammar and Italian language at the University of Rome.
This fragmentary acount was discovered serving as a lining for the back cover of a manuscript, the "Liber Sententiarum." It is catalogued as item no. 136 in the donation made by the John F. Lewis family to the Free Library of Philadelphia where it is kept in the rare book department. Lewis had acquired the manuscript in 1915 from a dealer in antiques, Arno W. Voinich, in London but
*A paper delivered at the Second World Congress of Accounting Historians.