Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Chirograph Definition:

A medieval form of contract which allowed for several verifiable authentic versions.

Related Terms: Seal

chirographThe form of a chirograph, which set out the terms of a contract, came from the need to make an authentic copy of the contract available to all parties, specially when the contract involved real property or the use of land to secure a loan.

The contract was written out twice or three times on a single parchment which then had through it the Latin word chirographum written between the copies.

The document was then cut irregularly, often in simple zig-zag, through the word and each party given a piece of the original.

By later aligning the pieces like a simple jigsaw puzzle, a subsequent observor, such as a Court of law, could ascertain the authenticity of the whole.

The process also made forgery and counterfeiting difficult.


  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Contract Law Dictionary
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, LawMuseum
  • Image of a chirograph is from the Museum and Library of Hildesheim, Germany
  • Lincoln, F. Ashe, The Starra: Their Effect on Early English Law and Administration (London: Oxford University Press, 1939).

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