Friday, 4 August 2017

Tally Ho

There are some terms and words that we hear regularly, but which we probably don't understand the origins for.

Counter Foils Appear Everywhere ....
One that crossed my mind recently was 'counter-foil' ..... why do we call it that?

Well the term is related to the way that early money lenders and bankers did their business in the middle ages.

They used a tally system. Notching bits of willow wood with the number being recorded. This could be simple marks in the wood or even amounts such as "£9 4s 4d from Fulk Basset for the farm of Wycombe". The stick would then be split in half, down its length from one end to the other. The debtor would retain half the tally stick, called the "foil". The creditor would retain the other half, called the "stock".

A Tally Stick - notched and inscribed to record a debt.

Because willow has a natural and distinctive grain, the two halves would match only each other.

This by the way is also why we use the term "stock" to refer to debts of the British government. Of course this also led to the formation of  stock trading, becasue if you were the possessor a tally stock e.g. for Fulk Basset's debt of £9 4s 4d, then you could trade it for nearly that amount (as long as you and the person you were selling the stock to both believed Master Basset was good for the debt).

Eventually the tally stock might be traded on and on and never actually recalled .... based purely upon trust in a Mr Basset and others like him. This of course is now how national currencies work as well as our stock exchanges....


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