Reader Scott Mathias recently got in touch having bought a document signed by Samuel Pepys. It appears to be the “bill of exchange” mentioned by Pepys in his entry for 31 July 1667:

At noon dined at home, and then to the office, where busy again till the evening, when Major Halsey and Kinaston to adjust matters about Mrs. Rumbald’s bill of exchange…

Scott was kind enough to let us reproduce the document here (click/tap the image for a larger version):

Scott’s best guess at interpreting the handwriting is:

Registered according to the last wishis mouroned the eighth day of July 1667 and to be paid in sourse noet after £20600 th

July 31 1667
I doe hereby assign and transfer all my right Title & interest in this Order unto Mrs Mary Rumbald the ministratrix to Wm Rumbald Esq Deceased.

If you have any better guesses as to some of the ambiguous words, do post in the comments!


Second Reading

Kate  •  Link

Registred according to the Act within menc[i]oned the xiiith day of July 1667 And to be paid in course next after 520 600 li

Rob Long

July 31 1667
I doe hereby assigne & transferr all my right Title & interest in this Order unto Mrs Mary Rumbald Administratrix to Wm Rumbald Esqr Deceased.

S Pepys.

xiiith = 13th
li = £

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Interesting information about the early international trade finance system, in which Bills of Exchange were essential, is in an AEON article about anti-semitism:…

Many of the bankers were Jewish, but they were only recently allowed to live in London, and they were asking to live other places to get away from Spain and the Inquisition. Troubled times!

Bills of Exchange are, of course, paper. And this paper way of settling accounts existed centuries before banks, bankers, and paper money.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Wikipedia on the history of Bills of Exchange:…

A bill of exchange is essentially an order made by one person to another to pay money to a third person.

When you pay your rent by check, the third party is your bank. This is a non-negotiable check, unless your landlord assigns your check over to the gas company, in which case your check is being treated as a negotiable instrument in paying your landlord's debt. Your payment will go from your bank to the gas company.

Negotiable documents are mostly used today in international trade, using Letters of Credit. They can be written many ways: the importer may not be the payer, the exporter may not be the payee, and everyone involved may be in different countries.
Before the internet, credit cards, PayPal and Bitcoin, negotiable Letters of Credit made imports and exports go around the world for millennia.

Or authorized Generals and their secretary's pay for services they did not perform.…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

There was an instruction manual for sailors outlining how to behave abroad, the laws and customs to be observed, how to negotiate Bills of Exchange, etc.

It was called ‘Consuedo, vel, Lex Mercatoria: or, The Law Merchant: Divided into three parts, according to the Essential Parts of Traffick Necessary for All Statesmen, Judges, Magistrates, Temporal and Civil Lawyers, Mint-Men, Merchants, Mariners and Others Negotiating in all Places of the World.’
By Gerard Malynes, first published 1622.…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

In 1668 Josiah Child, reputed to a fanatique, a victualler to the Navy and a brewer, and former Mayor of Portsmouth, wrote an interesting booklet on ways to improve the English economy, "Brief Observations Concerning Trade and Interest of Money".…

Reviews say this wasn't entirely original thinking on his part, but pulled together many ideas in such a way it created a lot of conversation which coincided with a Bill in Parliament.

He believed in low interest rates, banks and education for women, for starters.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

If you would like to take a dive into how the Hanseatic League traded all over Europe without moving any cash, and the Duke of Burgundy nearly bankrupted everyone by insisting on all transactions in his province be paid for in cash, see…

It's before Pepys' time, but the Bills of Exchange and how the wealthy merchants negotiated credit and hedged their bets are basically the same.

So much in life basically depends on people keeping their word, and being honorable.

Damned Ranter  •  Link

That doesn't look like a bill of exchange; or at least not all of one. There's no mention of the amount for a start. That had to be written in longhand, as "seventy pounds sterling" or some such formula. Not in Arabic numbers- it's too easy to add zeroes on the end to turn seventy into, say, seven hundred pounds. And the currency needs to be specified- there was, for example, the Scottish pound worth then about a twelfth of a pound sterling. The date is uncertain; it's difficult to interpret it either as 31 or xxxi, and it's unlikely that he would have had a BOE drafted and re- assigned (using another scribe) on the same day. One assumes that it would have been clearer according to the handwriting customs of the time. Probably a good job it never went to court.

The numbers that are there are completely enigmatic. They are written with a different pen, a different ink, and hand. All resemble those of the assignation below. It's not a date, nor an amount. And it wasn't written by Pepys. The "Registered" and signature may be his.

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