All About the LIFE Chit Book

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:


At the club you call for, say, two sherries and one bamboo (half sherry, half vermouth) and the waiter brings them, together with a small chit-book in which he has already written down your order in pencil, and this, after inspection, you simply sign or initial, when it is torn out and dropped into the till and you see no more of it until the end of the month, when your club bill comes in, supported by all the chits you have signed.


He adds wryly:

This system, though very convenient, is apt to prove something of a trap, for signing a chit is so much easier, and the amount appears to be so much less than if paying in hard cash, that when the monthly total is made up you are at first inclined to believe there must be some mistake; but alas! Careful verification too plainly shows that you have signed for more than you had any idea of.


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:

2. Oliver G. Ready, Life and Sport in China, 2nd Edition:

3. The Old Design Shop:


  • Evian

    Love the vintage look! I can see it becoming my vocabulary book learning a new language!

  • Debra Z.

    This is so interesting! I’m not sure what I will use mine for – yet – but I feel as though I’ve held one in my hands before and need it in my LIFE. ;)

    Thanks for the research and sources, Jane!

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