First ever accountancy text book to go on sale for £1m

First ever accountancy text book to go on sale for £1m Share

Here at Reed Business school we often talk about new developments in accountancy, and how much the industry is changing. But this week we’re going right back to the very beginning – to the first ever recorded principles of double-entry bookkeeping in 1494. And what’s more, you can pick up that very book itself at auction this month – if you’ve a cool one million to spend on it!

Where did it all begin?

Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar, mathematics professor and friend of Leonardo da Vinci, published his Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita in 1494, just 40 years after Gutenberg’s innovations in moveable type launched the printing revolution.

Considered to be the first great work on mathematics to be printed, the book includes treatises on arithmetic, algebra, geometry, foreign exchange calculations and double-entry bookkeeping – the “Methods of Venice”. It is this last section that eventually, about a hundred years ago; led to its writer becoming well known for having set down the system of accounting which remains in use 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.

At the time of its publication, Italy’s thriving city states were home to family businesses with international networks of trade, which required increasingly robust methods of management and financial control. Double-entry bookkeeping had been in use in Italy for at least a century, but Pacioli is credited with laying down the principles underlying it in the Summa, influencing the teaching of finance for generations of accountants. Additionally, the book explored methods of purchase, credit, cash and exchange in an era of multiple currencies and complex cross-border taxes.

The Summa also contains a practical guide to communicating large numbers by means of complex hand signals. This “digital” system allowed numbers from 1 to 10,000 to be silently shown, perhaps to overcome the hubbub of open outcry trading on a market floor.


Alice Laird, ICAEW cataloguing taxonomy manager, said that Pacioli’s description of double-entry bookkeeping is “critical in the development of the accounting profession as we know it today. It is very rare for these editions, to come up for auction and the expected guide price reflects their global significance,” she added.

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

Available to buy

A rare copy of Pacioli’s book is set to be auctioned off very soon. Due to go on view on at Christie’s in London on February 21 until February 27, it will then go on sale in in the New York branch of the auction house for an estimated $1m to $1.5m (£0.7m to £1.2m) on 12 June.

If your budget for texts books is a little more frugal, you can browse through the tome’s pages digitally on ICAEW’s website.

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