We have to take a break for a quick glance at the neglected story of the wooden money of England, the Tally Sticks, which were legal currency in Britain for 726 years, longer than any other currency in history, all through the period when the British Empire reached its arms right around the world. Henry I created tally sticks in 1100 AD to stop gold traders manipulating the money supply and rowing the economy, a central historical theme in our enquiries. From the late 17th century, Henry I’s tally sticks survived pressure from the Bank of England to end their use, but still they hung around, as greenbacks later would in the US.
Tally sticks were pieces of wood split down the middle – each splitting would be unique – and each stick would match up with its other half, which was held by the King’s Treasury. They were then polished and were mostly of finger length. Part of the original investment in founding the Bank of England was in whopping great big tally sticks. A full account here.
This artefact of Medieval England, a link stretching back almost to Anglo-Saxon England, finally ceased to be currency in 1826. In 1834 there were still a couple of cartloads hanging around the Exchequer’s offices at the Palace of Westminster. They were burned, perhaps as witches were burned, to forever dispel the evil debt-free money that wouldn’t go away.
This burning of the last tally sticks caused the Burning of Parliament, the biggest fire in London since the Great Fire of 1666. The tally sticks triumphed where Fawkes had failed. As the last tally sticks burned they took most of the Palace of Westminster with them, in a clear rebuke to the state for having given away the money magic to profiteers.