Our guest author today is Ellen Terrell, Business Reference Specialist, with another in our “Favorites from the Fifth Floor.”
We get many questions about business from around the country and often we
utilize credit reference books. The most well known, and one I have previously written about, is Dun & Bradstreet. This title has gone by several different names over time, but has been around since the mid 19th century.
There are other credit reference books available for specific industries and types of businesses. For example: Jeweler’s Mercantile Agency, Lumberman’s National Red Book, Lyon Red Book (for furniture), Beverage Bureau Book, Apparel Trade Book, and Davison’s Textile Bluebook.
While each title is idiosyncratic, most are organized by state and then by city. There is usually some sort of rating system that indicates to suppliers and others wanting to do business with the company, if they are legitimate and financially secure. Each title may have a different system or code for providing more specific information about an industry. For example the Apparel Trade Book, because it covers a wide range of businesses, has a letter system to indicate what their business is or what they sold. B was for Shoes, A for Department Stores, E for Hosiery and so on.
I recently had cause to use the American Shoe & Leather Trade Association title and for fun I looked up my father’s home town of Columbia, MS – a place I have visited often. There were a number of establishments listed in the January 1901 edition including: William and Foxworth Atkinson Co, IW Lampton & Bro, HB Lewis, EJ Pittman, Webb & Lane, John Watts, Joseph A Regan, FF Rankin, Rawls Pittman & Co. (or Pittman, Rawls & Co).
While most of these credit reference books don’t have long entries they can still be quite informative. Since the Library often has long runs of these titles going back in time looking in them can tell the growth of an industry in a certain city or give rough approximations of when business opened and failed.