JF Ptak Science Books Post 2067
There are times when a reader can get a little piece of social history in an unexpected place. For example, in the math text book that was just addressed on this blog1, there is a short anterior section called "A Practical System of Book-Keeping for Farmers and Mechanics". It is here where the reader is introduced to the keeping of a Day Book (which is different from a ledger and a cashbook) where the merchant would keep a record of what was sold to whom and for how much. To that end the author includes three pages of a sample Day Book, which displays a host of information for the modern reader about what could be expected to be found in the generic cash-and-carry trade in the U.S. in 1836. Most of the goods sold would have been purchased to make something else--there were not many items that would be considered to be a product for end use. So someone might not buy a carriage though they would buy the stuff that would go into making a carriage, or the ingredients for making beer rather than the beer itself, and so on.
And so, some of the entries from this practice Day Book:
6 yards of calico ($2.65), 2 yards of broadcloth ($3.25), 217 pounds of iron @ 8cents/pound= $17.36, 37 pounds of cheese ($3.70), 41 pounds of feathers ($28.70), 32 gallons of molasses, 300 pounds of pork (at 7 cents/pound), 30 bushels of corn ($13.50),1 cask of nails (225 pounds for $18), 32 gallons of molasses ($8), 30 pounds of harness leather ($16), 17 brooms ($2.08), 7 pounds of butter ($1.40), 7 tons of hay ($70), 50 dried hides ($200), 4 bushels of oats ($1.50), 1 cord of wood ($5), 28 pounds of lard ($4), 3 bushels of salt ($1.98), 75 yards of brown sheeting ($10.50), 500 pairs of men's shoes ($475), 120 pounds of blistered steel ($3.88), 100 pounds of Russia iron ($5), 300 pounds of bacon ($40), 3 pounds of coffee (48 cents), and 6 pounds of raisins ($1.99).
Fascinating--but even more so from a bit found earlier in the book--an interesting and longish example for practical mathematics, a very detailed question for addition. The presentation is a nearly full-page list of the contents of a country store, the inventory of which was being purchased by "a certain clerk" thus giving issue to the addition problem as well as a hint to what was found in a general store in 1836.
In this addition problem (which is somewhat problematic in that in the overall price column there is no differentiation between dollars and cents, so "4" means $4.00 anfd "50" can mean $50 or 50 cents) there are 46 entries, almost all of which are standard necessaries, with a few luxury items tossed in for the benefit of those who would have the occasional disposable income for such a thing. Overall the list is dominated by basics: sugar (354 pounds worth), tea, coffee, pork, beef, ham, rum, brandy, wine, vinegar, (40) empty barrels, (63) empty hogsheads, vinegar, axes, whips, wooden pails, kettles, tubs, ploughs, and rakes, and more (as we can see below). Less common was the book stock: 2 Hymn Books, 4 Perry's Spelling books, 2 Dwight's Geographies, and one copy of the iconic Morse's GeographyAnd it looks as though the buyer purchased everything for about $1071.00--which was a considerable sum. The average farm laborer was paid about $10/week, plus room and board in 1840; a carpenter might make $1-1.50 per say, while laborers in manufacturing (glass, iron, wool, cotton) all made about 80 cents-1.00 per day2. That means it would take the average man four years to save $1000, and probably more. In order to start this business to make money, you certainly needed to have some money to get started in making it. In the meantime, this is an interesting peep into what people bought in country stores in 1836.
1. Rosell C. Smith, Practical and Mental Arithmetic, on a New Plan, in which Mental Arithmetic is Combined with the Use of the Slate... which was printed in Hartford beginning in 1829 (my copy being printed in 1836).
2. See here for a decent look at what wages were like over decades in the 19th century.