Taking Care of Business:

Legal papers, letter books, inventories, expense books

According to Luca Pacioli’s 1494 treatise on double-entry accounting in the Venetian method, a merchant should use a variety of books to run estates and businesses, and to keep track of personal expenses. Some are displayed here.

MS E129 inventory2.jpg


Pacioli notes that a merchant must keep track of “whatever he has in this world, personal property or real estate, beginning with the things that are most valuable and most likely to be lost, such as cash, jewels, silver, etc.” He suggests that each inventory should be completed in one day for security purposes.

This book lists inventories of assets at properties in Lucca, Marlia, Bagnio, and Massaroso, Italy. The open pages display the beginning of the inventory and associated values for items in the country palazzo at Marlia, starting with furniture, household goods, and wall decorations. These inventories were compiled near the time of Bernardino Orsetti’s death.

Bernardino Orsetti, former owner. Inventario Generale, 1695-1700.
MS E129, pp. 122-123.


MS E140 v.10.jpg

Legal Papers

A merchant might also want to keep bound copies of legal documents. As Pacioli notes, “memoranda of the brokers, or of merchants, or of weighmen, or relative to goods placed in or taken out of the custom house, … or all kinds of notarial instruments written on parchments…ought to be kept in a place apart. The same should be said of the copies of instruments and papers of attorneys or counselors at law relative to lawsuits.”

This volume includes documentation for various legal transactions of land purchase. Hand-drawn maps are featured throughout these volumes, including this one for properties and land in the village of Pieve San Paolo in the environs of Lucca.

Altopasso lands. Liber Instrumentorum. K. 1691-1694.
MS E140 v.10 of 11, p. 64.


MS E136 v. 3 of 11.jpg

Copies of Business Letters

Pacioli notes that merchants should keep a special book for copies of business letters: “In this book the letter should be copied, word for word, if it is of great importance—as, for instance, the letters of exchange, or letters of goods sent.”

The Rubinstein Collection includes twenty-four books of copialettere (copies of letters) for Filippo Orsetti e Compagnia, a silk business that operated from 1695 to at least 1744. These books include correspondence with every major city in Italy, plus North Africa and most parts of Europe including cities in modern-day England, Germany, Switzerland, France, Austria, Poland, and Czechia.

Filippo Orsetti e Compagnia. Copie di Lettere. 1698-1699.
MS E136 v.3 of 11.


MS J 23_3 v.1 of 2 spese.jpg

Expense Book

Pacioli also discusses personal accounts, noting that “you shall keep this account in the way I have told you to keep the small business expense account, and make each entry day by day as you have such expenses, as for grain, wine, wool, etc.”

This volume lists costs for food, with each page representing one month’s worth of daily expenses. The Rubinstein Collection has a group of these tall, thin volumes, all but one of which are labeled “spese” and date from the mid- to late-18th century: later than most of the other volumes in this collection.

Orsetti Family. Spese di Vitto [food expenses], 1756-1806.
MS J 23:3 v.1 of 2.