Ohio Merchant’s Inventory from 1847
While hunting online for our ancestors’ records, I have been searching through collections of digitized microfilm pictures. I have been lucky; many of them have already been indexed, making it easy to go straight to the file I want.
But sometimes a collection is not indexed. Sometimes it wasn’t even filmed in any kind of order, and has to be searched, image by image. There could be 700 images in one file, or 6000, and you can only see 40 thumbnail images at a time. But those collections are fun to search too, because you never know what will turn up.
It reminds me of catch and release fishing, with one-inch black-and-white squares like little fish floating in a gray ocean — you pick one randomly, click to zoom in, check for a helpful clue, and either study it or toss it back into the black depths of oblivion. After releasing, you scroll to another screen, pick another likely-looking image, and zoom in again.
And often, as the image sharpens into higher resolution, textile terms jump out — “2 spinning wheels,” “Figured Alpaca,” “Green Gauze Veils,” “Merino Shawl, value $6,” “Pattent Thread.” Then I abandon tracing my ancestor’s records, and explore these other accounts instead.
So far I have found two general store owners, one from 1847 and one from 1837, and a tailor from 1829. I have had some time to delve into the 1847 records of Jacob Weaver, a merchant in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
His will states that he has been dangerously ill, but is of sound mind and memory. He died a few months after he filed his will, and the inventory of his estate runs to 20 legal-sized pages. Here is a partial page:
I have typed up the textile-related portion, and it comes to 13 pages. I have left most of the original spellings, but where the initial appraisers wrote “Ditto” or “do,” I went ahead and re-copied the terms, for the most part. Since many of the prices were amounts like “12 1/2 cents,” I used three decimal places in the amount, so the values would come out correctly. And to give you an idea of the values, a dollar in 1848 would be worth about $31 today.
Also, I didn’t understand how the appraisers assigned lot numbers, but I copied them exactly, to make it easier to compare to the original records.
If you are interested, the whole spreadsheet is here, 1847 Jacob Weaver inventory . (There may be small inaccuracies in copying or in figuring totals, so if you are a real historian, please double-check the original before trusting my version.)
The Big Picture
By my tabulation, Jacob Weaver had over 8600 yards of fabric in his store, of which about half was print fabric that ran from 5 1/2 cents to 17 cents a yard, or about $1.55 to $5.27 in today’s money. About 1500 yards were merino or alpaca, at a price of 25 to 33 cents a yard, or $7.52 to $9.92 a yard today. Silks and silk velvet ran from 56 cents to $1.75 a yard, or about $17.36 to $54.25 a yard. But Weaver only stocked about 200 yards of silk, and only 3 1/4 yards of silk velvet!
He stocked 14 kinds of buttons, mostly for overcoats. He sold seven kinds of thread, including “Yellow Shoe Thread,” as well as cotton and “linnen” floss, and “Cruel.” One of the items sold, Lee’s Spooled Cotton, I think might possibly have come from a mill owned by Charles Lee in Willimantic, Connecticut.
The only ready-made clothing items he sold were handkerchiefs, gloves, hose, shoes and boots, and shawls. Shawls ran from 50 cents for a cotton shawl, to $4.25 for a red merino one.
Dyes and mordants in his store included madder, indigo, logwood, Glauber’s salts, and Epsom salts.
According to the appraisal, Jacob Weaver’s merchandise was worth $2843.87, which would be about $77,000 today. However, he was owed $1900 (or $58,900 today) by about 300 different customers!
I am really amazed at the amount and variety of Jacob Weaver’s goods, but it confirms what I have recently read in Buying Into the World of Goods, by Ann Smart Martin. She analyzes the records of a general store merchant named John Hook, who lived in Virginia from 1745 -1808, so, slightly ahead of Weaver. She explains how storekeepers acquired merchandise to sell, how they set prices, got paid, etc., and how they interacted with customers and other merchants.
I have loved this glimpse into a store of the past, and I hope I get to compare and contrast with the other accounts I have found.