Credits and Debits:
Viewing History through Account Books and Ledgers
January 11, 2013 – January 30, 3013
Jaime Margalotti & Marrette Pearsall
The nearly 150 volumes comprising the Account Books and Ledgers collection in the Special Collections of the University of Delaware Library provide more than simply financial information about the businesses or individuals that maintained them. Readers can also learn about the day–to–day existence of the people whose names appear in the volumes, including their professions, what they ate, how they dressed, and where they lived or visited.
John David Herdman, Jr., (1770–1832) owned a tavern and hotel in the town of New Ark, now Newark, Delaware. The mostly single–line daybook shows the transactions for his business, including the purchase of alcoholic beverages in the tavern, as well as charges for lodging in the tavern, apparently to men only, and money loaned. Herdman's establishment had a competing business in the opposite end of the city, but attracted travelers from a nearby turnpike. The book includes payments for turnpike bills. In 1811 Herdman raised funds to have roads paved in Newark by managing a lottery. The book itself, paper sheets and binding, were made locally. The paper came from the Milford Paper Mill, built by Thomas Meteer in the late eighteenth–century and operated by the family until 1841. The Curtis family purchased the mill soon after and operated it until 1997. (MSS 096, 147)
James Booth’s shoe manufacturing and repair business was located in Booth’s Corner, Wilmington, during the 1850s. One of the revelations which comes from analyzing James Booth’s double entry ledger for his business is the degree to which people paid for their purchases in trade. There is an almost equal split between payments of cash and barter, with most people trading some form of labor, sometimes in the store itself. This and other ledgers also feature trade for other goods, such as farm products. (MSS 096, 004)
A. Grossman’s personal account book from 1885–1886 documents financial transactions which he undertook while travelling through Europe. The exact nature of Grossman’s travel in Europe is unclear, but entries in his account book suggest that he may have been an American traveler with ties to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, employed in some fashion during his travels. Grossman was paid a wage of 10 British Pounds per month and often made purchases on behalf of “Dr. B.” Grossman’s travels can be mapped out through his detailed list of purchases, noting specific cities and historical or cultural sites. The credits and debits reflect the local currency of wherever Grossman is at the time, such as marks in Germany and francs in France. His detailed lists of purchases include room and board, food, telegrams, stamps and stationary, transportation, medicine, cigars, and theatre and opera tickets. Grossman’s first recorded expenditure is for the account book itself. (MSS 096, 012)