A record of public expenditure in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I reveals the stationery used by her court officials at that time
The items are listed in ‘The progresses and public processions of Queen Elizabeth: Among which are interspersed other solemnities, public expenditures, and remarkable events during the reign of that illustrious princess’.
This collection of records (in an edition published in 1823) brings to life some of the gifts accepted and supplies received on behalf of the Queen in the 16th century.In retrospect, it seems obvious that ruling a country was like running a business and demanded constant book-keeping. It’s remarkable that we can read these documents today and get a picture of the day-to-day costs of the palace.
Along with listing New Year’s gifts given to the monarch (‘a juell of golde, garnesshed with rubys and diamonds, and thre smale perles pendant’), we see expenses for food and, particularly interesting for us, records of what today we would call office supplies.
For example, in one entry we can see that the ‘Maister Attorney Generall’ received ‘one ream of paper, one pound of red wax, and one pottel of ynke’. I believe that a ream at that time could be either 480 or 500 sheets of paper, while one pottel is equivalent to 1.9 litres of ink. And they seem to have had a run on ‘quyers’ (quires) of paper, believed to be 1/20th of a ream at that time.
The entries for 1579-80 show regular deliveries of stationery supplies for several offices to handle administrative work. Fast forward four centuries and the only thing that’s changed is that most businesses use tamper-proof envelopes instead of red wax for sealing letters.