History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What were tally sticks, and how was it that they they worked for the economy? I understand that they were a form of currency and were of fixed value based on the notches, but how did they work as a currency? Were they used like banknotes and coins are used today - exchanged for one another from the highest to the lowest levels of economy? I can't imagine them being too useful on a small scale due to their size.

share|improve this question

migrated from economics.stackexchange.com May 1 '12 at 20:06

This question came from our site for professional and academic economists and analysts.

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Tally sticks were credit-based money used by the King of England from roughly the XIII to the XIX century.

The idea was quite simple: in a credit based system, you have to find a way to represent the credit which is uncounterfeitable and cheap to produce. It also had to have no value as an object, otherwise you can have a market for the object rather than for the money it represents. To do that, you take a stick, make notches on it and split it into two parts (split lengthwise). The way notches are done is important: intervals between them for instance is quite important. An amount of money is encoded with the notches.

When you want to pay something to the Crown (=taxes), you just give your part of a tally stick for the amount. Your part is then matched against the other half which is kept at a central location. If the match is okay, then your payment is validated.

share|improve this answer
Used by the England from the 13th to the 19th century? Perhaps, but that's seriously understating them; tally sticks have been used to represent formal contracts since Old Testament times! – Mason Wheeler Jul 10 '15 at 18:10
@MasonWheeler I am interested in any historical references on the usage of tally sticks in ancient times, even for things not related to money. – Sylvain Peyronnet Jul 10 '15 at 18:57

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.