A Paddy’s Day Present: A Database for Mathew Carey Account Books and a Window into the Early American Book Trade

A year ago today, we announced work on a database that would make the extensive financial records of Mathew Carey, a Dublin native who came to Philadelphia in 1784, navigable. One St. Patrick’s Day later, we are happy to announce that this resource now exists. Carey’s records include receipts, bills, memoranda, invoices, bills of lading, and other records of his publishing house—arguably the most influential in the early Republic—and its successors: Carey, Lea, and Company; and Lea and Blanchard. Constructed from three drawers of index cards that were created in the late 1920s, the database contains over 12,000 names, most of which refer to people, but also contain references to ships, firms, and institutions such as schools.  After keying that information into a spreadsheet, members of our assiduous library staff have matched it to the box and folder number where it will appear and added the corresponding URL, so a search for a name in our database will render an account number and a link to GIGI, our digital asset management system. The URL will lead to a handful of images that include a reference to the searched name. A search for “Woodward, William” yields these results:

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Clicking on the links provided for Account #7554 and #7555 will then yield the following images in GIGI:

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The names will reveal much about Carey’s exchange and distribution networks, but also about the early American book trade more generally. In a letter to Historical Society of Pennsylvania Librarian Thomas Montgomery when AAS acquired the financial records, Clarence Brigham describes the records as including “the accounts of a firm of printers who had dealings all over the country with engravers, binders, publishers and book purchasers” (I wrote about the letter exchange between Brigham and Montgomery in a previous post).

We have spent a lot of time with this Carey data in the last year, and have had to think carefully and critically about how best to serve it to the user. Had we world enough and time, we would have checked every name against the Library of Congress Name Authorities, knowing that although some of the names would not be there, we could disambiguate some, not to mention correct spelling mistakes that have inevitably crept in during transcription. We have cleaned the data for consistency’s sake, as we outline in #2 of the instructions on using the database.

These instructions note that we have eliminated the use of titles, such as “Rev.” or “Cpt.”, in names. We have, however, retained “Mrs” and “Miss” when they were included in the original index because often this is the only way to identify the person as female. There were almost 40 discrete instances of this title used, and surely, some women are included in the data who are not listed with “Mrs” or Miss,” so we expect that those interested in women in the book trade and in business more generally in the early Republic might find this data of use.

These records reflect both Carey’s local dealings in Philadelphia and his international book exchange network. For example, Carey gave money six different times to the “Overseers of the Schools for Black People” for the tuition of Mary Whitesides (below).

Carey for Mary Whitesides tuition

These records might be used to disambiguate members of the transatlantic book trade family the Rices, some of whom emigrated from Dublin. In her Dictionary of the Dublin Book Trade, M Pollard describes this family as “ubiquitous and confusing” (493), and perhaps the 58 entries with the last name of “Rice” will help to clarify which members of the family were in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Dublin when.

The database of course only works if one has a name to search for, but we also encourage users to browse the names in the database. On the database site, we have included the spreadsheets for the complete list of names in an xlsm file that can be easily downloaded. This spreadsheet will not only enable browsing, but please also feel free to use that data for independent projects. We would love to know how it is used, so please contact me, should you find new and innovative ways to use what we hope will prove an invaluable resource for understanding the economies and exchanges at work in the early American book trade.

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Molly O'Hagan Hardy

Molly O’Hagan Hardy is AAS Director of Digital and Book History Initiatives. She shares news on digitization and cataloging efforts at AAS, coverage of digital humanities projects using AAS materials, and ideas for such projects. Stay current with all things DH at AAS by checking out the “Digital AAS” section of our website.

5 thoughts on “A Paddy’s Day Present: A Database for Mathew Carey Account Books and a Window into the Early American Book Trade”

  1. This is remarkable. I truly wish I could find a paper or piece of historic research to use this remarkable database. I am sure I would get lost in it for hours, but alas, I do not have the luxury of those hours.. ah, to be in Grad School again. This tab remains open in my browser nonetheless, just to dip in and check it out in an odd minute.

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