Following Colbert's Ordonnance of 1673, most of whose provisions were reiterated in the Code de Commerce, 1807 and the Law of Bankruptcy, 1838, traders in France were under a legal obligation to keep accounts of their business activities. In the event of bankruptcy, traders were potentially subject to severe sanctions for failure to comply. However, research carried out by Lemarchand (1994) has shown that the obligation on traders to keep books had no significant practical impact in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Utilising 500 bankruptcy case files covering the period 1847 to 1887, contained in the archives of the Paris Court of Commerce, the paper sets out to investigate the impact of the legal obligation on traders’ accounting practices in a later period. The object is to shed light on the extent to which legislation influenced the diffusion of accounting practice in nineteenth-century France. The study offers insights to the divergences between accounting prescription and accounting practice.