Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another Day, Another Account Book

William Poynz by Gainsborough (1762) - Wearing leather breeches

Another day, another account book and a trip to the Worcester Historical Museum.  This time, it was the account book of Joseph Newell, a tailor from New Braintree, a town in central Massachusetts, a world away from the bustling 18th century seaport city of Newport, Rhode Island.  These books are different in many ways, most notably, Joseph Newell’s book shows its age. The once colorful cover is faded and torn, the pages, especially the first ones, are brittle and water spotted, often hard to read, especially at the edges – making the dates of the entries difficult to decipher. Despite the condition issues, the book is still a treasure. (At least for us clothing geeks).  Filled with page after page of entries that represent a man's livelihood, this book, like Mr. Gould's, was easier to read the more you looked at it, though Mr. Newell’s handwriting posed more of a challenge – he wrote in a tiny, fine-lined script, in contrast to Mr. Gould's rather consistent, neat penmanship.  (I wish we could share a photo, but neither site permits photography and the books are too delicate to photocopy.

After perusing several pages, you get a good idea of the types of items being made and what was being accepting as payment.  Similar to what we found in the Newport book, Mr. Newell is loaning money and/or making payments in cash– probably because, most often, cash is what shows up on the credit side of his ledger. He occasionally trades goods for other goods, wheat for rye, for example.  He also is trading his time. Though it’s not clear what his is doing in trade (he doesn’t say), but he is charging 2 shillings per day for his labor. By way of comparison, he is charging anywhere from 4 shillings to 4 shillings/9 pence to make a pair of breeches.  So can we conclude that it took roughly 2 days for him to make a pair of breeches?

Though he made coats, “jacets, “trousis", great coats, drawers, a cloak, and did lots of mending, Mr. Newell’s specialty was leather breeches – made of sheep skin, deer skin, lamb skin and “moos”.  I need to spend some more time studying the prices, as sometimes it appears that he included the skins in the cost, he sometimes lists the skin cost separately.

Leather Breeches Maker, English Advertisement

 Speaking of prices, we see a stark contrast of the seemingly inflated prices listed in the Newport account books when compared to those in New Braintree. We’ll most certainly need the help of someone experienced in numismatics (vocabulary word of the day) to give us a more informed perspective on the value of money  and how it varied by colony, year, etc.   Lots of things to learn here, as we continue to scratch the surface!

No comments:

Post a Comment