When renovating around our fireplace last summer, we found an invoice from a local brewery, dated May 13, 1915. Exactly 100 years later, it is worth having a look at what has changed since the week the Lusitania was sunk, the Gallipoli landings started, and a little-known pitcher named Babe Ruth hit his first major league home run.
The amounts on the invoice pictured here are denoted in “Old Money”; the shilling and pence went out in England with decimalization in 1971. Beer is no longer sold in Firkins (which is 90 lbs, or 72 pints) – although an effort is being made to revive the firkin as part of the Furlong/Firkin/Fortnight system. This seems like a lot of “AK Bitter Ale” for a labourer’s cottage: I guess drinking habits have changed a lot, too. The invoice refers to a “drayman”, meaning that the brewery was still making horse-drawn deliveries. The printing on the invoice reads “191x”, hinting at a Y2K crisis at the end of 1919. The price of beer seems to be 1/2 pence per pint. The brewery no longer exists, either. It was a victim of the changing retail environment of the post-war era.
The final thing to notice is that the invoice is issued on paper. Not surprising in 1915, but what is surprising is that 100 years later, 77% of invoices are still issued on paper.
Everything else has changed about this transaction. The currency, the price, the unit of measure, the delivery method, the product: but if you ordered 72 pints from a beer wholesaler in 2014, you would probably still have a paper invoice. And in the U.S., you might even return the invoice with a paper check.
Business Networks change the game
Paper invoices may be great for amateur historians, but that is not their primary purpose. In the business-to-business environment after a slow century, things are starting to move. The main game changer seems to be business networks, and there are a few reasons for this:
- Programs can be driven by buyers
- Networks allow a many-to-many connection for both buyer and seller
- The same network can be used for large enterprises and SMEs
- Additional services such as Financing can be added
No doubt about it, businesses still like using paper. But after one hundred years, it really is time to consign it to history, along with shillings, dreymen, and firkins.