Royal Society of London finances 1765-2010



Preamble This spreadsheet contains my transcriptions of the Royal Society's annual accounts at ten-year intervals from the 1830s to 2010 (plus an attempt to recreate equivalent data for 1765). It was created in an effort to understand the wider financial context in which the Society's publishing finances operated (i.e. the finances of publishing the Philosophical Transactions and the Proceedings of the Royal Society). I therefore purposefully separated out all the costs/income I could identify that were related to publishing the journals, even in those years when the Society's treasurers did not operate a 'publications account' separately from the 'general account' (or 'general operating budget'). There will be inconsistencies for many reasons: change of accounting practices over the years; difficulty of identifying journal-related costs/income; difficulty of separating internal paperwork costs from journal costs; difficulty of identifying staff costs for publishing journals... etc. But this is the best data I've got after 8+ years of wrestling with the Royal Society archives. Contents Tab1 README Tab2 The annual accounts, transcribed, 1765-2010. Originally in £ s d, so I've added an extra column which converts the pre-1970 values into old pennies (240d=£1). The sub-total categories are imposed by me (because accounting practices changed so much over the years), and the values shown for these categories are calculated by me, not shown in the original documents. The row title makes this clear with 'calculated'. Tab3 The long 18thC: this tab (and the next) is easier to use: it uses 'old pennies' as a consistent (Excel-friendly) currency, and was created specifically to look at changes in finances (and publishing finances) over the long 18thC. It has lots of graphs looking at various aspects of publishing finances. Tab4 The long 20thC: this tab (like the previous) is easier to use: it uses £ as its consistent currency, noting the change to decimalisation in 1970. It was created specifically to look at changes in finances (and publishing finances) over the long 20thC. It has lots of graphs looking at various aspects of publishing finances. Tab5 The long 20thC adjusted for inflation: This is a copy of Tab4, with all the values adjusted for inflation. The values are in 1970£, and were adjusted using the deflator data at The trends shown in its graphs are therefore adjusted for inflation. Sources Prior to the 1830s, the Royal Society balanced its books every November 30th, but did not usually produce something that we would recognise as 'annual accounts'. The Treasurer would report to the Council on the 'cash at hand' (essentially, the bank balance) at the year end, and comment on whether it was up or down from last year. For 1765, the Treasurer reported enough detail (in the Council Minutes) for us to recreate a sketchy 'annual account'. From 1833, the annual accounts were published in Proceedings of RS (under headings such as Treasurers' Report, or 'Anniversary meeting' or similar). The Proceedings has been digitised, and is available from the RS website. Some of our data for these years, however, comes from the archival copies of the 'Balance Sheets', because these had more detail. From 1897, the Society began to publish a Year Book (essentially, a directory for the year ahead, but including reports on the previous year). Some of the pre-1910 Year Books can be found on Google Books, but for the rest of the 20thC, we had to check physical copies (which exist in university libraries across the UK). Annual accounts appear in year books from start; in addition to the general income/expenditure, there are details about assets (cash at bank, property, investments) and separate accounts for each named fund (giving the value of each, but also the holdings which represent that fund). The list of separate funds gets longer as we go further into the C20. By 1940, the accounts are rearranged into 4 categories: General Purposes Accounts, Special Funds, Research Funds and Parliamentary Grants. The latter 3 take up most space. By 2000, the annual accounts were appearing in a publication known as the 'Trustees' Report' (and these are available from the RS website) Accounting Practices There are six changes in accounting practice that affect the comparability of these data over time: 1 What is the financial year? The Society's traditional accounting year had ended on its anniversary day, 30 November. During the twentieth century, its financial year-end gradually moved earlier. This meant that, in 1939, 1968 and 1991, accounts were prepared for a period less than 12 months. Most notably, the financial ‘year’ 1991 was a mere 7 months. 2 Is there a separate Publications Account? Prior to the 1920s, the printing/publishing costs were presented as part of the Society's overall accounts. A separate 'Publications Account' began to be managed from the 1920s (separate from the General Account). But this disappeared again (from the public presentation of the finances) in the early 21stC 3 Decimalisation: until 1970, Britain used the imperial system, with 12 pennies (12d) = 1 shilling, and 20 shillings (20s) = 1 pound (thus, 240d = £1). In 1970, it changed to a decimal system, in which 100 pennies (100p) = £1. Excel does not cope well with imperial £sd, which is why Tabs 2 and 3 use 'old pennies'. For the long 20thC, values are all in £. 4 What counts as income? From c.1910 until 1957, the figure reported publicly for publications income included philanthropic income received to support publications (e.g. grants, donations), as well as commercial income (e.g. sales, royalties etc). 5 How are staff and overhead expenses counted? Staff costs (and overheads) were sometimes charged to the publishing account, and sometimes absorbed in the general Society account. 6 The Royal Society publishes other periodicals in addition to its scientific research journals: the Year Book, 1897; Obituary Notices, 1932 (later Biographical Memoirs); and Notes & Records, 1938. For most of the twentieth century, these periodicals had minimal circulation beyond the fellowship, and therefore minimal sales; but they did have costs. Those costs were usually (but not always) treated as part of the ‘publications account’. The 1990 Accounts are the first (of the ones I've looked at) which has an explicit statement of accounting principles
Date made available2022
Temporal coverage1765 - 2010

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