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Mercantile Agency Reference Book and key containing ratings of the merchants, manufacturers, and traders generally throughout the United States 1865
Title page of the Reference Book, 1865. R.G. Dun & Co. Library of Congress Digital Collections.

Early Volumes Added to Dun & Bradstreet Reference Book Digital Collection

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This week we’re excited to announce that the Library of Congress has added 39 additional volumes to our Dun & Bradstreet Reference Book Digital Collection!

The latest batch of digitized volumes span from the first issue in 1859 to 1879, aside from a few months that are still in progress. They join the set of volumes from 1900 to 1924 that were made available online in January 2022. Unlike those from the 1900s that were digitized from microfilm, these earlier volumes were scanned and digitized from the original books, which are large, heavy, and fragile.

R.G. Dun & Co., later Dun & Bradstreet, produced the Reference Book credit directories and assigned credit ratings to businesses both large and small, in every town across the United States. Together, these volumes create a picture of economic development, both by estimating monetary strength of individual businesses in one location and by showing the rise and fall of industries, like the shift from horse dealers to automobile manufacturers. At the start of this title series, the United States had just admitted Oregon into the Union as the 33rd state in February 1859. However, the Reference Book covers all United States territories, in addition to the individual states, along with Canada, so we see pre-statehood places like Colorado, the Dakotas, Wyoming—even Hawaii—as they grow. In a visual example, the business listings in Arizona barely take up half a page in 1870, but by 1900, Arizona grew to fill three and a half pages.

The left side is a sparsely filled half page of business listings. The right side is a crowded full page of four columns of business listings. Both say Arizona at the top in large font.
Left side: Arizona, July 1870. Right side: Arizona. July 1900. Both are from R.G. Dun’s Reference Book. Library of Congress Digital Collections.


The Reference Book suspended publication at the start of the American Civil War, so after the 1860 edition, 1864 was the next published volume. Other major events are reflected in some of the volumes. For example, the January 1872 preface describes how the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 impacted their work.

To help you decode and understand the ratings, we have created an index of keys to the rating systems, which links directly to digitized pages with the keys for each year. This also allows you to quickly compare financial thresholds from year to year and see changes in the keys. For example, in 1864, the year R.G. Dun & Co. resumed publishing, they redesigned their rating system.

The entire collection is searchable by keyword, and you can download each volume in PDF format. You can learn more about the Reference Book in the About this Collection page for the digital collection.

We are working on completing the digitization through 1899, so stay tuned!

Homepage of the website with information about the collection.
Dun & Bradstreet Reference Book Collection. Digital Collections, Library of Congress.


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