William T. Baxter THE LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE
THE ACCOUNT CHARGE AND DISCHARGE
Abstract: The account charge and discharge system was a competitor of the dou-ble-entry accounting system and some of its features may give answers to some of the problems plaguing our present day accounting.
As I understand it, the medieval period had at least two account-ing systems running in parallel—the eventual winner, double-entry; and the account charge and discharge.
The latter was pre-eminently the system of stewardship. The steward was charged with the sums for which he was responsible (opening balance, plus receipts), and discharged of his legitimate payments; the end balance showed what he must hand over to his lord or keep in his charge for the next period.
The system had the enormous advantage, in an illiterate society, of not requiring written documents. If need be, it could be worked instead with an "exchequer"—lines on a table to act as columns for units, tens, scores, etc., and small pieces (like draughtsmen) to represent numbers. The petty official who handled the pieces at the English royal court was in time to blossom into the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Officers in attendance to check the steward's explanations did not read but heard them—hence "auditor".
Scottish Trust Accounts
The written account charge and discharge persisted in some stewardship dealings till well after the medieval period. Thus con-tractors to the British government were still using it—with Roman numbers—in the eighteenth century.1 And, curiously enough, I my-self was trained in it during my apprenticeship in Edinburgh; Scots law and accounting continued obstinately to prefer it, rather than double-entry, for various kinds of semi-legal reckoning such as
An excerpt the Haskins History Seminar paper on "Accounting's Roots—and Their Lingering Influence", The Academy of Accounting Historians, Atlanta, Georgia, April 1979.