1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tally

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TALLY, an old device, now obsolete, formerly used in the English exchequer for the purpose of keeping accounts. The tally was a willow or hazel stick about one inch in depth and thickness, and roughly shaped like a thick knife-blade (see Fig. 1). Notches (see Fig. 2) were cut on it showing the amount paid, a gauged width of 1½ inches representing £1000, 1 inch £100, ⅜ inch £10, half a notch of this size representing £1; 3/16 inch 1s., and the smallest notch 1d.; half-pennies were represented by small holes. The account of the transaction was written on the two opposite sides, the piece, of wood being then split down the middle through the notches; one half, called the tally, being given as a form of receipt to the person making the payment, while the other half, called the counter-tally, was kept in the exchequer. Payments made into the exchequer were entered into an account-book, from which they were transferred to a strip of parchment, or teller's bill; this was then thrown down a pipe into the tally-court, a large room directly under the teller's office. In the tally-court were officers of the clerk of the “pells”[1] and of the auditor as representing the chamberlain of the exchequer. The teller's bill was then entered in the introitus or receipt-book by the officer of the clerk of the pells, and in another book, called the bill of the day, by the auditor's clerk. A tally was then made of the teller's bill, and it was given on application, generally on the following day, to the person paying in the money. At the end of the day, the bill of the day was passed on to the clerk of the cash-book, by whom all the day's receipts were entered (see the “Great Account” of Public Income and Expenditure, part ii. app. 13, July 1869, by H. W. Chisholm).

EB1911 Tally - tally stick.jpg

Fig. 1.—A tally (not the same as that shown in Fig. 2).

The practice of issuing wooden tallies was ordered to be discontinued by an act of 1782; this act came into force on the death of the last of the chamberlains in 1826. The returned tallies were stored in the room which had formerly been the Star-chamber. This room was completely filled by them, so that in 1834, when it was desired to use the room, the tallies were ordered to be destroyed. They were used as fuel for the stoves which warmed the houses of parliament. On the 16th of October 1834 the houses of parliament were burnt down by the overheating of the stoves through using too many of the tallies.

EB1911 Tally - tally stick (diagram).jpg

Fig. 2.—Diagrammatic view, showing notches with facsimile of writing, of an Exchequer tally, acknowledging the receipt of £236, 4s. 3½d. on the 25th of October 1739, from Edward Ironside, Esq., as a loan to the king on £3 per cent. annuities payable out of the Sinking Fund, on account of £500,000 granted by Act 11 Geo. II., c. 27. The date is written upon the upper side of the tally, where the two notches denoting £200 are cut. The lower side, on which the smaller notches are cut, has only the word Sol written upon it.

The so-called tally-trade was an old system of dealing carried on in London and in the manufacturing districts of England, by which shopkeepers furnished certain articles on credit to their customers, the latter paying the stipulated price for them by weekly or monthly instalments (see M‘Culloch, Dictionary of Commerce)—the precursor, in fact, of the modern instalment system.

See S. R. Scargill-Bird, Guide to the Public Records (Calendar of State Papers); H. Hall, Curiosities and Antiquities of the Exchequer.

  1. So called from the pells or sheepskins (Lat. pellis, skin) on which the records were written. The clerk of the pells was originally the private clerk of the treasurer. His duty was to keep separate records of all monies entering and leaving the exchequer. These records were kept on two rolls, the pellis introitus, or pells receipt roll, the the pellis exitus, or pells issue roll. The office gradually became a sinecure, its duties being discharged by deputy. Previously to 1783 the salary of the office was derived from fees and percentages, but in that year parliament settled the salary at £1500 a year. The office was abolished in 1834.