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.
Oh my! Imagine keeping track of all those things!! That was an amazing list. Thanks for delving into it.
Glad you liked it. I have been mentally apologizing to all those high school teachers and counselors who told me to become a librarian (and I was too cool to think about it), because I love this record research. 🙂
I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
Just loved this, sounds as if the shopkeeper had a great big heart, to allow all those customers owe so much.
Thank you for including me.
I am looking more into inheritance law of the time. It amazes me that the officials considered the debt owed, as part of the value of the estate. I would not be inclined to count on a debtor paying once a creditor had died. I just hope the poor widow was able to collect!
I was wondering the same…I found the story interesting in that I can relate. Though we are in different countries, the situation seemed similar. When my grandfather died, he was owed many reasonable size sums of money, that he, from the goodness of his heart, lent to help other struggling families. He had little to share, but always did, saying that at least he could feed his family, as they had a farm. My grandmother was only ever paid one debt, small as it was, but at the time, very much needed. This was from a family who havd very little.
Others, who were by that time, well ‘back on their feet’, ignored it and were never seen at the house again.
Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for sharing your research.
You are welcome. I hope it is useful to someone! 🙂
This really makes fascinating reading. The variety and prices of textiles is interesting but also the amount of credit he gave, which makes me wonder about his customers. And, though not related to the facts of the matter, the writing is exquisite.
I know, I love that writing! That was the first thing that made me zoom in to all these records. I was thinking, “I’ll run a lot of copies and use them as art journal backgrounds.” Then I started reading what was on the sheet!
The other storekeeper I have found, from about 1838, seemed to have the same percentage of merchandise on hand/ money owed. Ann Smart, in the book I mentioned, studied one particular storekeeper and tried to track down all his customers to figure out what segments of society he was serving, and said that a good percentage don’t turn up anywhere else in public records. So she thinks they were just passing through. I wonder how hard it was to get people to pay, if they weren’t intending to come back.
Awesome!! I’m about to head 100 miles away to do a guild presentation on the Mill Girls. This was wonderful to skim through, and I’ll spend more time with it tomorrow or later this week! Thanks so much. Wonderful to have so much data available to us. Thanks for sharing.
I hope your presentation went well! I bet the audience loved it!
It did go well, thanks!
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