Exchequer tally, 1812.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Tally sticks were a method of accounting for loans and payments used by the Treasury until 1826. Notches were cut into wooden sticks according to a code representing sums of money, date, payee and other information. The sticks were then split down the middle with the Exchequer keeping one half and the debtor the other. When the debt was due to be paid, the two halves were matched to see if they 'tallied'. If they did not, this was evidence of fraud. In 1834, a fire burning old tally sticks got out of control, causing serious damage to the Houses of Parliament.