During the old poor law, many paupers had their possessions inventoried and later taken by authorities as part of the process of obtaining poor relief. Historians have known about this for decades, yet little research has been conducted to establish how widespread the system was, what types of parishioners had their belongings inventoried and why, what the legal status of the practice was, and how it affected social relations in the parish. Using nearly 450 pauper inventories, this article examines these historiographical lacunae. It is argued that the policy had no legal basis and came from local practices and policies. The system is found to be more common in the south and east of England than in the north, and it is argued that the practice gradually became less common from the late eighteenth century. The inventorying of paupers’ goods often formed one of the many creative ways in which parishes helped the poor before 1770, as it guaranteed many paupers assistance until death. However, by the late eighteenth century the appraising of paupers’ goods was closely tied to a negative shift in the attitudes of larger ratepayers and officials, who increasingly wanted to dissuade people from applying for assistance and reduce expenditure.