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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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Comments (10)

  1. According to the text in this article, “Early Volumes Added to Dun & Bradstreet Reference Book Digital Collection”, “you can download each volume in PDF format”. I have tried to download Dun and Bradstreet Reference Book: 1859; Vol. 1 by clicking the PDF button, but no download occurs.

    Can you give me instructions on how to do this properly? Thank you.

    • Thanks for calling to our attention that the PDF option is no longer appearing as a download. We’re checking on the issue and will report back!

    • Regarding downloading the PDF: if you click the pdf link on the search result, it takes you to a PDF web viewer of the title. However if you click on the title result itself (or, it you’re on the PDF viewer page, clicking “About this item” in the top left corner above the pdf viewer), it brings you to the “landing page” for that volume, which gives you all the download options. See for the options to appear to download the PDF under the image.
      I’ll send this issue to our web team, since that seems less intuitive!

  2. When can we anticipate the volumes from the 1880s and 1890s being added to the digital collection? Those decades will be most helpful in my research.

    • The 1880s and 1890s have been scanned and are currently in the workflow to be added to the digital collection; hopefully we’ll have announcement in the next few weeks! One caveat is that we do not have volumes from 1891-1898 in our collection — the only gap!–but 1890 and 1899 will be included in this batch.

    • Hi John, Just dropping in to let you know the rest of what we had for Dun’s Reference Books in the 1870s, 1880s, and the few in the 1890s is now up on the Digital Collections page!

  3. The 1891-98 volumes of the D&B collection are on microfilm, at least many of them. A friend purchased copies many years ago. Here is what he has:
    Filmed in 1979 by the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service.
    Bradstreet’s Book of Commerical Reports / New York
    Call No. HF 5573.B8
    Volume 42-263
    Microfilm Shelf No. 04983
    I also have the Jan 1880-89 Bradstreet film.
    Jan 1890 Pt 1 & 2
    Jan 1891 Pt 1 & 2
    Jan 1892 Pt 1 & 2
    Jan 1893 Pt 1 & 2
    Jan 1894 Pt 1 & 2
    Apr 1895 Pt 1 & 2
    Jan 1896 Pt 1 & 2
    Jan 1899 Pt 1 & 2

    • Thank you for sharing what your friend holds– it appears to be a separate title, Bradstreet’s Book of Commercial Reports, which we do have on microfilm ( Our current digitization project is focused on Dun’s Reference Book, for which we have a nearly complete collection except for the 1890s, but in the future we may consider a project to digitize Bradstreet’s Book of Commercial Reports.

  4. I don’t think I made myself clear. I think his microfilms from the 1890s are the same as the ones before and after that decade, but I will verify with him that they are Duns rather than Bradstreets.

  5. I did verify with my friend who has the films – all of the ones he has from 1880 to 1899 are Bradstreets. My confusion is due to the fact that both the Dun and Bradstreet books provide similar but often slightly different information. I use both interchangeably and the only time it makes a difference to me is when I make a citation.

    I would really like to see the 1890s gap in coverage filled by digitizing the Bradstreet books, and hope that project can be put on the schedule soon.

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