The collections of the Library of Congress are always growing. Besides what we receive through Copyright and other means, we reference specialists also recommend material to add to the permanent collection—often rare, older items we don’t own, but would like to have, and additional databases for on-site researchers to use.
This past year there were a few items purchased by the Library that fall in the Business category, including two databases related to historical advertising and commodity prices. As a business librarian, I love a database that has historical content, but good, old-fashioned books – particularly old ones – really grab my attention. There are three really interesting items that I wanted to share. For those doing research in business history, it’s sometimes hard to find materials in the time period of interest with a pure business focus, but these three very different titles, fill the bill.
I’ll start with the smallest, oldest, and most basic from a business perspective – what is said to be the first dictionary devoted only to business. In 1661 Martin Wagner’s Idea mercaturae. Darinnen was von der Kaufleute Commercien, Credit und Glauben, Fallimenten oder Banckrotten, Wexeln und dessen Rechte, Protesten, Parêre, Rescontreën Kaufmans Messen, assecurationen, Buchhalten und bilanciren anzumercken und zubehalten, kürz jedoch eigentlich beschrieben wird. Jungen und annoch ungeübte Kaufleuten zum nothwendigen Unterricht was published. It is laid out as a series of questions and answers to various business topics that were essential knowledge for any young merchant.
The second item, Strictures and Occasional Observations upon the System of British Commerce with The East Indies: With Remarks and Proposed Regulations, for Encouraging the Importation of Sugar from Bengal; and Hints for an Arrangement of the Trade, after it Shall be Separated from the Revenue, of our Territorial Acquisitions to which is Added, a Succinct History of the Sugar Trade in General by John Prinsep was published in 1792. The rather long title pretty much tells you what the book is about – British trade with India and of the sugar trade with the West Indies. Beyond that, it also provides a 1792 perspective on the beginnings of the sugar trade in the Americas. The handwritten notes on the inside of the back cover are just a bit of lagniappe that reminds me that at one point this was someone’s personal book.
Lastly, there is the item with the shortest title Annuities upon Lives: or, the Valuation of Annuities upon any Number of Lives; as also, of Reversions from 1725 written by Abraham de Moivre, an acquaintance of Sir Isaac Newton. This is a classic study of annuities and mortality statistics which became very important for those in the life insurance business. It contains a number of interesting items, including Halley’s “Table of Observations” and de Moivre’s “Annuity table.”
While these titles do require special care, handling, and storage – we do acquire them with the intent to use them.