Counter tables are frequently mentioned in sixteenth century inventories and earlier, though counter chests are more unusual. The tables were probably equipped with sliding tops, but the term 'counter chest' suggests a hinged lid, as in the present example. 'Counters' appear to have been used in the 'counting-house' for making calculations, for which they would be marked with a grid or equipped with a chequer board or cloth. This interpretation is underlined by the terminology used in some of the earlier Latin inventories, such as the 'tabulam pro computacionem'' owned by Richard Mason of the York Vicars' Choral in 1433. The Southampton merchant Edward Willmott had two counting chests and a writing board in his counting house in 1570 (Roberts & Parker, Southampton Probate Inventories 1447 - 1575, p.287).
Sixteenth century counters are often noted as having a compartment (such as 'with a chest' or 'with a locker'). It is assumed that such compartments offered storage for moneys and accounting ledgers; and that they were often put to other uses. After the middle of the century the term was apparently used in a more general sense, and becomes increasingly synonymous with the modern meaning of table or chest.