From Cheap-Jacks to Scrooge McDuck

In Cheap We Trust

Recent economic events have raised the profile of cheapness, which makes this Tuesday evening’s free public lecture at AAS a particularly timely event.  On Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 7:30pm Lauren Weber will be discussing the value of thriftiness in American history in a talk titled: “From Cheap-Jacks to Scrooge McDuck: A Brief History of Cheapness and Thrift in America.”  By following this link you can learn more about the event, about Ms. Weber, and about the new book which this talk is based on: In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue (2009).

In preparation for tomorrow’s lecture, what follows is some economic wisdom from that paragon of thrifty virtue, Ben Franklin, in his classic Way to Wealth (1758).  Way to Wealth is the “uniform title” of the work, a cataloging term for a book’s moniker or nickname (another example being “Bible”).  Uniform titles are especially important in rare book cataloging because, since the earliest incunabula all the way through the 19th century, title writers seemed to be in an extended quest to see just how long a title they could fit on a title page.  In fact, the actual title for Way to Wealth fills the entire title page (you may notice that in this paragraph-long title, the words that don’t appear are “Way to Wealth”).  Here’s the full transcription:

Father Abraham’s speech to a great number of people, at a vendue of merchant-goods; introduced to the publick by Poor Richard, a famous Pennsylvania conjurer, and almanack-maker, in answer to the following questions. Pray, Father Abraham, what think you of the times? Won’t these heavy taxes quite ruin the country? How shall we be ever able to pay them? What would you advise us to? To which are added, seven curious pieces of writing.

Thriftiness is not only verbally honored in Way to Wealth: after listing the table of contents, rather than leaving even a few lines of “unimproved” white space, the text proceeds directly to list the proverbs for which Franklin (or “Poor Richard”) has become famous.  Here are a few choice tidbits to keep in mind in these tough economic times:

  • Beware of little Expenses: a small leak will sink a great ship.
  • A Ploughman on his Legs is higher than a Gentleman on his Knees.
  • A Child and a Fool imagine Twenty Shillings and Twenty Years can never be spent.
  • When the Well’s dry they know the Worth of Water.
  • If you would know the Value of Money, go and try to borrow some.
  • He that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing.
  • ‘Tis hard for an empty Bag to stand upright, if it does ’tis a stout one.
  • Creditors are a superstitious Sect, — great Observers of set Days and Times.
  • ‘Tis easier to build two Chimnies, than to keep one in fuel.
  • Silks and Sattins, Scarlet and Velvets, have put out the Kitchen Fire.

One thought on “From Cheap-Jacks to Scrooge McDuck

  1. Gabrielle Simmons

    Came across your blog post when i was doing some research on Franklin Library and Easton Press Books. Anyway – I enjoyed the post and am going to bookmark the blog – I look forward to more. Thanks


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