Wednesday, 16 March 2016

[#3] Michael Adler, ‘Jewish Tallies of the Thirteenth Century’, Miscellanies of the Jewish Historical Society of England , 2 (1935), pp. 8-23.*Michael Adler, ‘Jewish Tallies of the Thirteenth Century’, Miscellanies of the Jewish Historical Society of England , 2 (1935), pp. 8-23.*

* While the Jewish Historical Society of England has made the back issues of Transactions available online, I can’t see any hint that the Miscellanies have been digitised but this volume can be procured through the JHSE.

In a speech dripping with unrestrained contempt for archaic and bureaucratic nature of English government, Charles Dickens famously described tally sticks as ‘worn-out, worm-eaten, rotten old bits of wood’ (Shepherd: 1906, 170). (It is worth noting, given the need for massive restoration efforts to the Palace of Westminster, that Dickens found it incredulous that £2 million should be spent on the reconstruction of the Palace after it had burned down). In many ways Dickens’ opinion of tally sticks has permeated through academia because, despite the efforts of scholars like Hilary Jenkinson (Jenkinson: 1911, 1924) and several others, tallies are a much neglected source. This is reflected in the fact that in a recent study of medieval money, the most substantive reference to tallies took up, in total, only about a single page (Bolton: 2012, 32-33), thus demonstrating that there is a long way to go in incorporating this type of source into historical analysis of the medieval economy.

Of the several hundred thirteenth-century tally sticks which are extant, over 160 relate to the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry. While the details of a great many thirteenth-century tallies were published by Jenkinson (1924), in this article Michael Adler provides a brief discussion of the nature of the Jewish tallies before providing a complete list of the known Jewish tally sticks. While, one might use this paper as evidence to support Robert Stacey’s conclusion that, in general, ‘[Adler did] little more than plunder the printed records for curious details’ (Stacey: 1987, 62), I would argue that despite the fact that Adler drew from Hilary Jenkinson’s publication of tally sticks, that does not make this paper any less valuable. I take this stance for two reasons. First, it is only when the Jewish tallies are removed from the general collection of thirteenth-century tallies that the real significance, in terms of the overall collection of tallies, become apparent. Second, and more importantly, Adler’s classification of tallies makes it possible, at a glance, to establish the nature of the Jewish tallies (primarily in terms of the tallages of 1239 and 1241-2). This also makes it easy if, as I have recently been doing, you want to compare the extant tallies with the receipt rolls which were simultaneously produced.
Work cited:

Bolton, J. L., Money in the Medieval English Economy: 973-1489 (Manchester: 2012).

Jenkinson, Hilary, ‘Exchequer Tallies’, Archaeologia, 62 (1911), pp. 367-380.

Idem., ‘Medieval Tallies, Public and Private’, Archaeologia, 74 (1924), pp. 280-351.

Shepherd, Richard Herne (ed.), The Speeches of Charles Dickens 1841-1870 (London, 1906).

Stacey, Robert C., ‘Recent Work on Medieval English Jewish History’, Jewish History, 2 (1987), pp. 61-72.

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