I’m not an accountant, but I play one in social media.

My brother, who is an accountant, is mad for old accounting and economics textbooks. He’s of the opinion that these classics provide a less adulterated view of the subject than a lot of the current stuff. In fact, anything published after the creation of FASB in 1973 is considered suspect. Call it an aversion to “rules inflation.” And while I make fun of him A LOT about it, I have to wonder who is the greater fool. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that newer and more doesn’t always equal better. But I digress.

When I’m on vacation in cottage country, a trip to the lois tradition and this past holiday weekend was no different. This beauty had my brother’s name written all over it!

This book, “An Accounting Primer: The ABC’s of Accounting for the Non-accountant,” was originally published in 1968. Based on my reading of it, I think it’s safe to say Elwin W. Midgett did NOT spend The Summer of Love dropping acid in Golden Gate Park listening to The Dead jam out with an extended version of Born Cross-Eyed; although, and not to disparage Middle Tennessee State University, he was probably relatively well acquainted with the affliction.

For $4 bucks, I had to pick it up.

So, what did accounting look like back in the late 60’s?

Here’s my greatest hits courtesy of my brother, Mr. Elwin W. Midgett, and Middle Tennessee State University. Go Blue Raiders!

“… the author is always amazed at the total lack of understanding of a balance sheet or a profit and loss statement. Although the author does not believe that this situation is one that calls for immediate action…”

Hear that? I think Fra Luca Pacioli just rolled over in his grave.

Midgett does reference the Italian monk credited (no pun intended) with inventing the double entry system way back in 1494, and rightly focuses on the Accounting Equation as being the foundation of the whole business. That said, you can’t help but laugh when Cash Flow Statements are referred to with terms like, “Where Got and Where Gone”.

There’s more than a few laughs, but there’s also quite a few truths in that ‘News From 1930’ kind of way.

The topic of borrowing comes up a lot. On the second page of Chapter 1, Midgett cautions that a business should not “buy on credit indiscriminately, because many assets decrease in value rapidly.” Now Henry Lehman is rolling in his grave. “Business runs on credit and if all credit were suddenly cut off, the economy of the country would all but grind to a screeching halt.” Okay, now he’s SPINNING in his grave.

It’s either laugh or cry, right? Or in Gonzalez’s case, bust out a string of expletives that’ll take the paint off the walls! Lovely girl.

Of course, even back then Midgett can’t help but betray accounting’s doom with his unfortunate choice of sample company:

Or it’s dork label,

Chapter IV: Debitus And Creditus

In Brief
The Owner, or the Owning thing,
or whatsoever come to thee:
upon the Left hand see thou bring
for there the same must placed be.

But –
they unto whom thou doest owe
upon the Right let them be set;
or whatsoe’er doth from thee go
the place them there do not forget.


“One should never attempt to memorize the theory of debit and credit…. Memory is too fickle.”

“Fortunately, an account has only two sides.”

I think I could harvest enough out-of-context quotes to write an entire book of my own!

Around p.27 it kind of strikes me that the roots of accounting aren’t about decision making, strategy, or business insight – All the stuff we are being encouraged to consider today. The roots are about one thing and one thing only, tracing transactions.

That’s not all bad, is it? Could it even be…. precious?

Chapter VI: The Worksheet – It’s Wonderful

“It truly is a marvelous device…. The accountant does not necessarily show it to anyone, but he knows its value…”


The worksheet, marvelous as it is, is not magic…. When two columns of accounts are in balance and they are separated into four columns of accounts, keeping debits debits and credits credits, the difference between the new columns will be the same and on opposite sides.


This was the paragraph that really made me think we need a “Best Before” date on these types of books. I can deal with the quaintness of referencing handwritten journals, carbon copies, printing calculators and the like, but I draw the line at the old-timey word maze.

Midgett goes on to actually do a pretty decent job of covering off the various sub-ledgers, adjusting entries, payroll, and accruals. Being buried deep within the technology industry for Accounting and Business Intelligence (B.I.), I haven’t actively thought about these Journals for a while. It was okay. Grounding.

You know that feeling, like… coming home?

‘I’ve been recording them this way for ten months,’ she replies, and adds a little sarcastically, ‘If I have been doing it wrong, why haven’t you told me before now?’

Yes, it was a simpler time. A time when you could fit about everything you need to account for business in 165 pages. A time when the tax code was comprehensible and “The prospective auditor learns that he must be liberal in his thinking and tolerant of the techniques of others”.

Thank you Elwin W. Midgett. And Fare Thee Well.

Elwin W. Midgett {December 31, 1911 – November 22, 1993}

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. He regularly attends and contributes to the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city through the Vancouver Enterprise Forum, guest blogging on Techvibes.com, and as a mentor with ISSofBC. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. He is currently working in a marketing/social media role with Indicee, a Saas Business Intelligence company, bringing B.I. to mere mortals.