I am fortunate to have collected a number of ledgers and day books from the first half of the 1800s. Linda may disagree as the 200 year-old documents, with their leather and board bindings and accumulated “dust,” aren’t the most attractive or fresh-smelling. However, they capture a unique view of day-to-day living in the developing countryside.

The local dry goods store was much more than a place to buy goods, these documents reveal. Some of the earlier ones in my collection show the shopkeeper was key to facilitating commerce. He imported goods that couldn’t be sourced locally, but also was the “credit card” issuer, third-party payment processor and the middle-man for locally-produced goods.

It wasn’t unusual for the store owner to settle an unpaid bill for goods by taking “labor” in trade, such as splitting fence rails. Other times a local resident might sell baskets or produce to the store and then buy goods from the store. It wasn’t a direct barter exchange, but something like it. From time to time a patron would pay off, with cash or labor, another person’s bill at the store. What the arrangement happened to be between the two parties is hard to know, but it was the store that facilitated the financial transaction. Currency wasn’t plentiful, and the store filled role of bank.

 Many of the financial transactions that take place today can be seen in these documents of years past. And, some of the suspicion of new “money” like Bitcoin was also evident in early transactions. These early American ledgers sometimes record transactions in Pounds and Shillings, even though there was the Dollar. Perhaps the shopkeeper had trouble making the transition, or maybe he wasn’t sure the Dollar was going to hold its value! As time passed the same ledger recorded Dollar transactions as well, providing the “exchange rate” on might look at today.

The store day books also provided a glimpse into the lives of the local population, detailing purchases that ranged from basics to what may have been seen as luxuries then, though no one was posting pictures of their purchases on social media at the time! The store was the social media, often also housing the post office.

The Collector publicationis resident in a building that served as the community’s first free-standing bank. The same building also served as the post office for a time and is now the home of the community’s 150-year-old newspaper. Walking through the door is almost like walking through history. And we’re continue to hope to find that gold piece that somehow was left behind when the bank moved one door west!

Grant Hamilton, Publisher