The part played by double entry bookkeeping (DEB) in the rise of capitalism in Western Europe has been the subject of academic attention and debate for more than a century [Miller, P., & Napier, C. (1993). Genealogies of calculation. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 18(7/8), 631–647]. Our interest in this topic was aroused by sources of relevant comment concerning early uses of DEB identified in Chambers’ An Accounting Thesaurus (1995). In this paper these sources, augmented by a systematic search of surviving treatises on DEB published in Britain between 1547 and 1799, comprise extended evidence that enable us to make “justified statements” [Napier, C. J. (2002). The historian as auditor: Facts, judgments and evidence. Accounting Historians Journal, 29(2), 131–155] in support of the notion that writers encouraged a “capitalist mentality” [Bryer, R. A. (2000a). The history of accounting and the transition to capitalism in England. Part one: Theory. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 25(2), 131–162; Bryer, R. A. (2000b). The history of accounting and the transition to capitalism in England. Part two: Evidence. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 25(4/5), 327–381] among the rising merchant class. They did this by communicating to merchants the potential of DEB for presenting economic events in a financial form that enabled them to evaluate the amount and profitability of their business investments and provided data on which to base decisions designed to enhance the “Value and Condition of his Estate” (Stephens, 1735, p. 4). Further, based on the known occupations of these writers and drawing on knowledge of the operation of an international trading enterprise, the Hudson’s Bay Company, we speculate that DEB might have played a part in helping owners manage their affairs during the major economic and social developments that are known to have occurred in Britain and Western Society more generally between the 16th and 18th centuries.
Accounting, Organizations and Society Vol. 34, Issue 5, p. 551-570