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The bookkeeping

Pyre structured his notes in the typical North German fashion which means that he largely worked with slips of paper on which he made notes (‘Zettelwirtschaft’) (Arlinghaus 2002). They were kept inside a book by a fold-over flap. Only the most relevant or long-term transactions were registered in his merchant book. Unfortunately, with two exceptions, those slips of paper were lost so that we only have his book at hand. This way of taking and keeping notes was very common for merchants of the Hanseatic region who, unlike their Italian counterparts, noted also only a minority of their transactions in cash and this rule applies also for Pyre’s bookkeeping (Arlinghaus 2000).

Furthermore, he employed a typical North German notation style but in an extreme shorthand of his own creation as he did not mention his name nor even a praenomen and he also omitted some verbs and did not properly register the dates of transactions (Tophinke 1999). Pyre also tended to omit the word ‘schuldich’ (‘due’) as he wrote, for example: ‘'Item soe ys my Hans

Monyk ¥2 mk' (‘therefore Hans Monyk is [due] to me Vi mk’) (Orlowska 2020/2, 95v 6).

Pyre started writing his merchant book in a quite traditional way, trying to use some techniques regarding the double-entry accounting. Therefore, during the first years, he annotated personal accounts and multiplied entries about diverse transactions in which a growing number of partners were involved. However, already in the fourth year of his economic activity, 1424, he introduced a major change and arranged the notes according to the transactions and not to his business partners. In this new system, all the data regarding one transaction was written down in direct vicinity. The final due was clearly put at the end of a note, also in typical North German fashion (Tophinke 1999). The final due was usually calculated in the local currency poor Mark Pr.

The merchant split the transactions into two main categories - the simple purchase and sale transactions as well as more complicated transactions. The latter, he used to place in one segment of the book and described usually in a traditional way, one transaction after the other, using merchant signs of his partners in the headline of notes for a quick recognition of the notes. He developed a different system for purchase and sales. This system, called Methode der Gegenseiten (‘method of opposite sides’), was unique and very innovative (Schmidt-Rimpler 1915). The merchant registered all the details of a given transaction on the left page of the book and the information including the name of the trade partner, the description of the merchandise, the amount, the price per unit, the sum to be paid, the payment date and, in some cases, also the date of the transaction, and further details. He did not have to leave any empty space underneath the note, contrary to other merchants of the same period. He instead described the next transaction directly under the previous one. The details of the payments were noted on the right page, parallel to the description of a transaction. As the details of a payment were usually shorter than the description of the transaction, he had enough space to elaborate on even most complicated payment processes. This is how he avoided the problem of lacking space for the description (a problem which led other merchants to write down this information in randomly chosen empty spaces in their books). This approach allowed him to maintain a clear structure and to diminish disarrangements. Additionally, such a structure better fulfilled the function of memory aid and allowed to omit details of the notes such as dates.

Since Pyre was able to collect all details of a given transaction in the same place, so that they followed each other chronologically, he could retrace them at a glance. This made noting down dates largely redundant which is why Pyre’s merchant book contains few time stamps - usually at the beginning of each page and, on average, one more in the middle of the page. The book in its final state therefore contains mostly crossed-out notes without any temporal data on when a transaction was initiated and when it was paid. Thus, determining those dates is challenging and often downright impossible.

The main influence on whether a note contained both a date of the transaction and a due date was its position in the book and on the page. As the entries at the top of a page were usually dated, they contain both dates with a higher likelihood. In addition, Pyre dated his notes in the middle of the page (usually about the tenth note on a page) more often when a larger amount of time had passed since the date at the top so that his memory needed another prompt. Furthermore, Pyre dated almost half of the entries in the last ten years of his activities with both dates, the majority of which in the last five years. Since Pyre also reduced his activities in this time frame by reason of the loss of faculties due to aging, this trend can be attributed to dealing with his decreasing memory. The net effect is that the portion of dated transactions was many times higher in those last years of Pyre’s life.

 
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