All About the LIFE Chit Book
Hi! This is Jane, and I’m reporting back from a deep dive on a rare LIFE product we just added to the shop. The LIFE Chit Book is a vintage ledger-style hardcover notebook with a classic rounded-back binding that allows the book to lie flat. Blotters in between each page protect fountain pen ink from smudging onto the page opposite, and perforated corners that can be torn off help you keep track of which page you’re on.
“Hold on,” you might be thinking. “What the heck is a chit book?” Great question — I also had no idea! A chit book is an analog accounting tool that tracks “chits,” which can refer to I.O.U.s, payments made, or vouchers. A chit book can be functionally different from a ledger because, depending on the context, you might tear out pages to use as receipts. In a 1904 book called Life and Sport in China, author Oliver G. Ready describes the role a chit book would play on a typical night out:
He adds wryly:
Even after a century of innovation, though I pay with just a tap of my credit card rather than with a pen-and-paper I.O.U., I have to say I still empathize with Oliver on this last point.
Photo: The Old Design Shop
LIFE is a Japanese stationery maker that is well-known and loved for their classic and enduring designs, and this particular chit book made its grand debut in their 1960 catalog. It seems that, at that time, LIFE was making products for shopkeepers and businesses in mind, as they state in the catalog’s introduction that they aim to make products that you can use “from the front to the last page without waste,” and that you’ll have “plenty of pages available so that you don’t run out of pages while serving customers.” In the pages of this catalog, alongside the chit book, you can also find receipt books, typewriting paper, and classic ledgers.
Photos: Asahiya Kami
Even though the pages of chit books could be used as tear-out receipts or invoices, the features of this chit book in particular (the sophisticated hard cover, the rounded-back perfect binding, the blotters, and the tear-off corners) lead me to believe that it's designed for personal bookkeeping. It’s interesting to flip through the smooth pages of this chit book and think about how people may have used this in their everyday lives before the advent of Excel sheets, e-bank statements, and personal finance smartphone apps. I don't know if I personally would use this chit book for its intended purpose, but I think the page layout would lend itself perfectly to planning meals, tracking workouts, or logging study sessions. What other creative uses can you think of for this Chit Book from LIFE?
1. Asahiya Kami: https://www.asahiyakami.co.jp/shop/life_is/wonderful.htm
2. Oliver G. Ready, Life and Sport in China, 2nd Edition: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/26412/26412-8.txt
3. The Old Design Shop: https://olddesignshop.com/2019/05/antique-ledger-shabby-aged-book-pages/