Indents, Indentures, & More Kinds of Indentures


9 April 2014

Even at law, similar words have different meanings. Today's words make that point. On the one hand, indent and indenture are related. On the other hand, indentures mean something else entirely. 

Indent (verb, legal usage): "To cut in a serrated or waiving [sic] line. In old conveyancing, if a deed was made by more parties than one, it was usual to make as many copies of it as there were parties, and each was cut or indented (either in acute angles, like the teeth of a saw, or in a waving line at the top or side), to tally or correspond with the others, and the deed so made was called an indenture."1

Indenture (noun): "A deed to which two or more persons are parties, and in which these enter into reciprocal ... grants or obligations toward each other." For those of you who are deed-hounds, be sure to note that not all deeds are indentures. There are also the deed polls in which "only the party making it executes it, or binds himself by it as a deed, though the grantors or grantees therein may be serveral in number." Now did you guess it? A deed poll is a document in which the deed is "cut or shaved smooth or even; cut in a straight line without indentation." (And, of course, a deed poll has nothing to do with polling, poll-tax, and elections. The common thread between all these various types of "polls," is that they all stem from a root word meaning "single" or "individual.")2

Indenture of Apprenticeship (noun): "A contract in two parts, by which a person, generally a minor, is bound to serve another in his trade, art, or occupation for a stated time, on condition of being instructed in the same."3

Indenture of a Fine (none): Indentures made and engrossed at the chirographer's office and delivered to the cognizor and the cognizee, usually beginning with the words: "Hoec est finalis concordia."

Now, of course, you probably need to know what a chirographer's office is—and maybe a cognizor, which is also a conusor. If you don't have Henry Campbell Black's Law Dictionary handy (today, we've used his 4th ed. [St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1951], 911, 1319), you can satisfy your curiosity on these other points by visiting Bouvier's Law Dictionary at the Constitution Society's website (