Congdon (2014 Congress)

Eleanor A. Congdon
(Department of History, Youngstown State University)
“The Paper Used in the Account Books of Francesco di Marco Datini da Prato”

Abstract of Paper Presented at the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, 2014)

Session on “Medieval Writing Materials:  Surfaces, Fixtures, and Enclosures” (2014 Congress Sessions Accomplished)
Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Mildred Budny
2014 Congress Accomplished

[First published on our first website on 16 March 2014}

At the height of his activity, Francesco di Marco Datini da Prato (c. 1335 – 1410) was the principal investor in seven trading companies around the Western Mediterranean.  For all these companies to succeed under the guidance of one person, he needed the agents in each company to keep accurate records in enough detail that an auditor — a function he fulfilled for his companies — could follow all ventures through the many steps from start to finish.  He had each of his companies periodically send their ledgers for just this purpose to him in Prato, where most of them survive to this day.

This presentation will examine ten of the account books surviving for Datini’s three Catalan companies.  What do the physical characteristics of the books tell us about how an international merchant of Datini’s stature conducted business?  Did he expect his agents to buy their own record books, or did he supply them with ledgers?  Were they supposed to make their own pen and ink, or did he supply it?  The Datini letters and records do not indicate the origins of these materials.  The characteristics of these ledgers do suggest that Datini had blank books made for his companies, with leather bindings of different colors, and with standardized measurements and numbers of pages.  Other types of ledgers, such as the Datini household accounts, were not standardized in size and shape.  These characteristics and the features of the bindings show that Datini indeed cared about the long-term preservation of his records, as well as the efficient collection and housing of them.


Note: This paper reported further aspects of the research presented by Dr. Congdon in the annual series of sessions on “Medieval Writing Materials” sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence since 2011:

2013 Congress

2012 Congress

2011 Congress).

The series resumed in 2016:

2016 Congress

The Abstract for Eleanor’s paper for our 2013 Symposium is available here: Identity & Authenticity.

We thank her for her contributions.


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