Accessory costs of reproduction frequently equal or exceed direct investment in offspring, and can limit the evolution of small offspring sizes. Early angiosperms had minimum seed sizes, an order of magnitude smaller than their contemporaries. It has been proposed that changes to reproductive features at the base of the angiosperm clade reduced accessory costs thus removing the fitness disadvantage of small seeds. We measured accessory costs of reproduction in 25 extant gymnosperms and angiosperms, to test whether angiosperms can produce small seeds more economically than gymnosperms. Total accessory costs scaled isometrically to seed mass for angiosperms but less than isometrically for gymnosperms, so that smaller seeds were proportionally more expensive for gymnosperms to produce. In particular, costs of abortions and packaging structures were significantly higher in gymnosperms. Also, the relationship between seed:ovule ratio and seed size was negative in angiosperms but positive in gymnosperms. We argue that the carpel was a key evolutionary innovation reducing accessory costs in angiosperms by allowing sporophytic control of pre- and postzygotic mate selection and timing of resource allocation. The resulting reduction in costs of aborting unfertilized ovules or genetically inferior embryos would have lowered total reproductive costs enabling early angiosperms to evolve small seed sizes and short generation times.