APS Library Bulletin headline
New Series, vol. 1, no. 1, Winter 2001

The Head Account Book as Artifact:
A Supplementary Essay

by Jay Robert Stiefel
<[email protected]>
© 2001. All Rights Reserved.

I. John Head's Business Practices

A. The Limitations of a Barter Economy

By the time Benjamin Franklin had arrived in Philadelphia in 1723, the necessity of having a paper currency in Pennsylvania had become, in his words: "the chief Concern of my Countrymen."1 Specie and provincial currency were scarce. Cheaper prices for "ready Money" were a constant refrain in Philadelphia advertisements.2 Most available ready money was siphoned off to England, on which Philadelphians depended for their fabrics and most of their manufactured goods.3

Most transactions were therefore conducted by barter. But that system, dependent as it was on the willingness of its participants to exchange particular commodities, was constricting Philadelphia's economic growth.4 Franklin wanted to stimulate emigration of craftsmen to Philadelphia, such as Head, but the "Want of Money in a Country discourages Labouring and Handicrafts Men (which are the chief Strength and Support of a People) from coming to settle in it."5

Noting the many inconveniences and limitations of having an economy based on the exchange of commodities, Franklin extolled the virtues of "MONEY, properly called a Medium of Exchange," as: "It is Cloth to him that wants Cloth, and Corn to those that want Corn; and so of all other Necessities, it is whatsoever it will procure." Franklin saw paper currency as an express "Advantage...to Joiners...."6

1. Payment

The limitations of a barter economy to Head's business are evident in his account book.7 Cash transactions are few, particular in the first years. Commodities, promises to pay, and financial instruments took their place. Notes of hand were frequently exchanged between Head and his customers, and transferred to third parties.8 Years often passed before an account was settled, perhaps because one party insisted on cash. Some accounts remained unpaid or not fully paid.

Some of the time intervening dates of order and payment may have been necessary for the production of the object. Thus, when a single cash payment of eighteen shillings was recorded from James Logan (1674-1751), on 5/15/24, for "a Walnut Table," first ordered on 10/30/23, it may have taken Head most of that time to make the table.9 However, no such explanation could apply to the transactions of Andrew Gramer. He was debited £0-15-0, on 4/23/29, "To - 6 yards of Druget;" and £1-17-6, a week later, on 4/28/29, "To 15 yards of drugit dd [delivered] to his dafter mary [daughter Mary for which] he promises pay[ment]." But full payment didn't come until almost a year later, on 3/15/30.10

In one instance, Head had to wait nearly nine years for full payment, his client having died in the interim. Artha [Arthur] Jones, with whom Head had long done business on a fairly prompt basis, ordered a "chest of drawers," at £3-10-0, and "a clockcase and a Table," at £5-15-0, on 9/9/38. No credits having appeared for more than three years, Head accepted a "note of hand" from Jones, on 12/9/41, but recorded in that entry, which was apparently supplemented later: "By a note of hand payable 9 of 12 mo 1742/3 with Lawfull Interest} £5-15-0/But he did not Live to pay The note of/John Evens [Evans] seteld the [w]hole account page ye 74." While still alive, Jones ordered lime on three occasions in 1742 [1-5-0, 6/18/42; £1-10-0, 6/25/42; and £1-10-0, 8/18/42]. Part payment of £3-10-0, was credited on 10/15/42, but the note remained unpaid. Jones may have been unable to pay because of ill health, as a charge of £2-0-0 was entered in the name of his widow Elizabeth, "To her husbons Cofin," on 6/27/43. Not until 3/16/47, was Head able to close out the account with £8-10-0, "By Cash Rec:'d of John Evens one of his Executors."11 Delays in payment were the rule rather then the exception.

Even when he did no other business with a customer, Head sometimes gave them a year to pay. But, again, this may have been less a question of trust and currency shortage, than of Head's inability to deliver the furniture sooner. The £8-0-0 debited Thomas Moon, on 5/30/26, "To a Chest of drawers and a Table," was not credited, "By Cash Re[ceive]d by His wife," until 4/16/27.12

From other, perhaps less credit-worthy, individuals Head required half payment down at time of order. On 6/24/28, Sary [Sarah] Core was debited £3-0-0, "To a Chest of Drawers," and credited half that amount, £1-10-0, "By Cash." Apparently strapped for cash, she paid off some of it in a £0-3-0 credit, "By - 8 pound of Chees." The remaining £1-7-0 was paid off, over a year later, on 10/24/29, "By Cash In full by her dafter Sary [daughter Sarah]."13

Head may have had good reason to require half down from another customer, martha [Martha] Bates. On 2/12/40, she was debited £3-10-0, "To a Chest of drawers," and credited cash of £1-15-0. Head waited over a year for another £1-0-0 in cash, on 4/12/41; and nearly another for £0-15-0, on 2/21/42. His records do not record whether he was ever paid the remaining 10 shillings.14

It was commonplace in Head's book for third parties, often relatives or business associates, to pay for furniture delivered to others. Thus Philip Johns was debited £7-5-0, on 10/1/24, "To a mapel Chest of Drawers sold To his Wife: dd [delivered] to her dafter [daughter]."15 Usually the entire payment was paid by one party for another. In one instance, though, the accounts of two individuals were charged for portions of the price of a piece of furniture delivered to one of them. On 7/27/25, Matthias Lucan was debited £2-10-0, "To part of a Chest of drawers;" and Peter Tison the rest, "To part of a Chest of Drawers dd [delivered] to Mathias Lucan} £3-0-0."16

As Head usually had in stock or could produce or readily acquire goods that were in demand, such as furniture, lime, soap and candles, it was usually he or his suppliers who had to wait for payment. But, occasionally, the barter economy conferred the advantage on him. Over five years passed from 2/16/40, when Thomas Penenton [Pennington?] was credited £1-10-0, "By - 30 Bushels of Lime," until Head settled that amount, on 3/3/45, "To a Beaver hatt dd to his son James."17

Some laborers, such as plasterers William Vallecot and Thomas Carrall [Carroll], appeared to have been paid on a "pay as you go" basis. This may have been because they bartered their own labor, rather than goods supplied from elsewhere on credit, and simply couldn't afford to wait for payment.18 Carroll appears later to have had a more pressing need for money. He placed an ad that "[w]hereas Catherine, the wife of Thomas Carroll, of Philadelphia, Plaisterer, hath eloped from her said husband, and run him a good deal in debt, to his great detriment, this is to desire all persons not to trust her on his account; for he will pay no debts of her contracting from the date hereof."19

2. Export and Import: Middlemen

Some of Head's furniture appears to have been supplied, or possibly even consigned, to middlemen for export to other nearby towns or abroad. Philadelphia dominated the trade of its region.20 Philadelphia-made furniture was among the goods exported.21

Head appears to have participated in the export trade. Two of the three pieces of furniture which Head debited to Aaron Goforth Junor [Jr.], were delivered to individuals who appear to be sea captains. Goforth was debited £6-0-0, on 2/13/27, "To a Walnut Dask dd to Thos Styth captin;" and £2-5-0, on 2/29/27, "To an oval Table dd to Capn. Atwod." Head was not paid until 6/9/27, when he credited Goforth for £8-9-0. The additional four shillings may have been meant to further compensate Head for awaiting payment and, perhaps even for accepting all or part of the risks of consignment and sea transport.22

Head also sold six £3-0-0 chests of drawers to Samuel Brian [Bryan], who was styled a "Shipwright" when he married Head's daughter Sarah, on 12/17/46. The number of similarly priced chests sold, five of them within less than three years, and Bryan's connection with shipping, suggest that these, too, were for export.23

Head also appears to have been involved with servicing and supplying the import/export business of Thomas Wells, a "Ship carpenter, in Front Street," who advertised the sale of assorted fabrics. On one occasion, Head debited Wells for "Six picter frames;" and a week later, charged him for mending eleven more. Given the quantity, it is probable that Wells may have been transacting frames along with his fabrics.24

3. A Stickler for Detail

Head was generally a meticulous record keeper, sometimes even noting the familial and commercial relationships of those people with whom he dealt to the names on the accounts being billed. Thus, he debited Hugh Cordry £0-9-0 "paid to his son he Being a partner with his father." Even in transactions within his own family, Head was a "stickler" for detail. Head charged "William Lawrence my son[-in-law]" £3-0-0 "To Cash Lent his Wife," i.e., Head's daughter Martha.25

4. Other Business Policies.

Having readily barterable goods enabled Head to sell more of his own. He never seems to have tacked on a profit for goods, such as chairs and clocks, supplied by others to his customers, and on which his own shop had done no work.26

To further promote his business, Head took in second-hand goods that he could later refurbish and hope to resell. These included both furniture and clocks.27 The latter he obtained from Peter Stretch, presumably in working order. Head was able to rehouse some of those "ould" clocks in new clockcases, only profiting from his cases.28

When customers wanted "to trade up," Head obliged them, making a profit from the difference in price. He debited Matthias Aspdin £0-15-0, noting "Changed his Small Table For a Larg one." Similarly, a transaction with the widow of Jon Loyd dec'd [John Lloyd, deceased], was debited at £4-10-0, "To Changen a Charitree Chest of Drawers for her Walnut drawers." When another customer, John Campbell, got into financial difficulties, Head "Received Bake [back]" at full cost, a chest of drawers and oval table ordered from him six months earlier.29

Reduced prices seem only to have applied to materials and not finished goods. On at least three occasions, Head credited the accounts of others for "scantlen [scantling]" sold him at reduced prices. He extended the same courtesy to his son-in-law, Benjamin Hooton, for scantling "used in his shop and house," and to his bricklayer, James Stoopes.30

5. Disagreements

When disagreements arose, the customer's accounts were often brought in for comparison with Head's own. On 11/11/30, Benjamin Clark was credited £8-12-8, "By his accounts Brought In."31 When accounts could not be reconciled, Head sometimes offered an "abatment" or "a Batment." On a rare occasion, Head granted a waiver. He waived £2-17-0 to John Clifton, on 1/5/36, "By his account Brought In for Waven." Sometimes, such disagreements worked out to Head's advantage. Thus, he debited £0-5-4 to James Poultis, on 4/8/22, for a mistake: "To:4 Bushels of Lime That he charged me with more Than I had Through a mistak."32

But woe betide someone who gave Head inferior goods. Head insisted on getting a £0-0-4 1/2 credit from Josier [Josiah] Foster, on 2/2/24, "To a lowince for a Bad Ches [allowance for a bad cheese]."33

Even worse was the fate of someone, living or dead, who failed to pay rent. In these circumstances, Head became even more exacting in annotating his accounts. These entries consequently afford valuable information as to the seizure and sale process, and the fees of the constables, porters, appraisers, and auctioneers who executed it.

On 11/20/27, Head debited John Campbell £9-15-0, "To nine months Rent." That same date, Campbell, who had acquired a lot of furniture and other goods from Head, was allowed credit of 26-18-2, "By a Bond that he gave me for Balance." Presumably, that bond was not paid, as Head had to resort to seizure. He debited Campbell, on 7/26/28, £0-2-6 "paid William Davis Cunstable;" and £0-6-0, paid "John Cadwaleder [Cadwalader] for Writen ye Bill of sale and prised [appraised] ye goods."34

Similarly, on 2/20/50, Head noted, in the Esteat [Estate] of John Lamb that he had "seased [seized] his goods and wareen [wearing] apparel." Head then debited the estate £6-0-0, on 2/25/50, "To - Three quarters of a years house rent." On 2/28/50, several events took place in quick succession. Head debited £0-2-6 for having "paid portreg of his goods to vandu," i.e., paying for porterage of his goods to the vendu, or auction. Another debit was for the £0-2-0 "paid the Constable John Harrison for Taken an Inventory of his Goods." No doubt not wishing to lose out on reimbursement for the porter, Head again repeated how the goods were transported, and then noted the auction results: "cared [carried] them by a porter to the vandu and Alexander Forbs [Forbes] sold them for £21-2-10." Although Head computed that "his Commishens Comto [the auctioneer's commissions came to]" £1-15-2, and credited them that same day to the estate, he didn't credit the balance for nearly a month. On 3/21/50, Head "paid John Thornhill one of his Executors Cash for Balance" of £13-3-2.35

B. How John Head Kept His Books

1. Head's Records: the Account Book/Ledger, the Daybook, Loose Papers, and "Sundres Chalked a pon ye dore"

As accounts in a barter economy could run on unpaid for years, it was essential for tradesmen and artisans such as Head to assign and record values for those goods and services taken in exchange for their own. This "'bookkeeping barter'...lubricated the intricate network of credit which sustained the pre-industrial economy."36

Merchants' account books are of two basic types, daybooks and ledgers.37 Head's ledger has survived [hereafter cited as Head Account Book, in keeping with Head's title].38 It contains at least thirteen references to a daybook, not yet found.39 Head also jotted down transactions on loose slips of paper when out of his shop. He kept these in his pocketbook, i.e., his wallet, or in a drawer.40 Some of the slips, still loose, remain inside the front cover of the account book. One other record of Head's transactions could have been found on the doors of his customers. He debited John Clifton £0-6-3 1/2, on 1/16/36, "To Sundres Chalked a pon ye dore."41

Data would have been transcribed from Head's daybook, the slips of paper, and other miscellaneous sources, such as the chalk markings, into his account book/ledger. Head's account book was kept in a form of double-entry bookkeeping. Each customer's name appears as a separate account spanning a left and a right page. Debits to that account were entered on the left page, under the account name and the abbreviation "Dr" for debtor. Credits were entered on the right under the abbreviation "Contr Cr," for contra credit.42 Separating the debits and credits eased reconciliation of each account. To further distinguish between debits and credits, Head would customarily describe that which was debited as "To...," and that credited as "By...." Frequently, however, he would forget, and use "To..." on both sides of the account book.

The Head account book's entries usually run chronologically within each account. However, the accounts themselves were not chronologically ordered within the book. Thus the account containing the earliest entry [3/22/18] does not appear until page 49. Nor were the accounts listed alphabetically. There appears to be no rhyme or reason as to how the account names were grouped, except that a few accounts pertaining to various victuallers at the market were listed near one another. While Head must therefore have employed some sort of alphabetical index to locate accounts within so large a book, none has survived with the book.

Head's accounts are often listed more than one to a page, divided by account name. In addition, when an account was closed in a shorter space than that intially accorded it, Head would sometimes draw an "X" across its entries and a line underneath, to demarcate where that account ended, sparing more space for the next account.43 Conversely, when space for a particular account ran out, the account was noted as "carried" to a later page.44 The first several times that happened, Head laboriously recopied each of the prior entries for that account onto the new page. But this may have created a risk of double-counting during any reconciliation. He later changed his method, totaling the earlier entries and then entering only that total on the new page before adding new entries. All of the foregoing would suggest that the account book was maintained contemporaneously with the daybook and not created long afterwards.45

The entries within each of Head's accounts are basically in date order. This makes sense, as they would have been transcribed from the chronological entries in his daybook. An occasional entry was designated as "omited," being entered to square up overlooked transactions. Often such reconciliations were made with the aid of the other party's books, and so noted in Head's ledger. In some instances, either party or both actually signed Head's ledger to attest to their books now being in agreement. On the credit side of the account of James Boolen [Bollen], was written: "1723/ 5 - 8 mo To his acount for Sundry Goods Brought in This Day -} £3-7-4 1/2/ Reckoned Oct ye 5 Anno 1723 with James Bollen And ballenced All Accts To this day as witness our hands John Head/ James Bollen." 46

2. Head's Dating

In recording dates, Head consistently employed digits, e.g., "3 mo.," rather than names, to indicate months. He was inconsistent, however, in his placement of months. Sometimes they appeared before the day, other times after. In order to normalize his dating, his dates are here numerically transcribed in the following order: "number of month/day/last two digits of year." (Only the last two digits of the year are given, as all fall within the 1700s.) To further avoid confusion, no effort is made to translate Head's Julian (or Old Style) method of dating into Gregorian (or New Style) dates. The Gregorian method did not come into effect until January 1, 1752, and few of Head's entries post-date that change.47

3. Valuation Notation: "£.s.d."

Also followed here will be Head's usual method of hyphenating amounts in pounds, shillings and pence. While Head often dispensed with the symbols £.s.d. in his entries, for the sake of clarity amounts will be stated as "£#-#-#."

II. Head's Phonetic Spelling

A. The Difficulties of Decipherment: "To: The Wallen upapes of a Siler by an Irishman"

Head was a phonetic speller, but a careful one. He appears to have taken great pains to spell words the way he pronounced them. Although Head's spellings of the same word may vary, they appear to be pronounced the same, aiding translation. Context, of course, also helps. Thus, when "framin a mop," along with some pictures, for Alexander Woodrop [Wooddrop], it is clear that Head was framing a map, and not a wooden-handled cleaning implement.48

However, when Head's phonetic spelling is complicated by his tendency to join separate words as one or to separate single words into two or more, decipherment becomes more difficult. One particularly challenging phrase was his £3-6-0 credit to Bangaman Rods [Benjamin Rhoads?], on 8/1/20, "To: The Wallen upapes of a Siler by an Irishman."49 Was this some sort of sea shanty, entitled "To the Wailing and Pipes of a Sailor" composed by an Irishman? A search of the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN) database for books on Colonial publications yielded no obvious monographic candidates for this title, suggesting the exciting possibility of an unpublished Colonial American broadside. But the price seemed too steep to justify such a purchase. Head wasn't one to spend much on reading material. He recorded buying only four books in Philadelphia, at a total cost of £1-18-0.50 He wasn't likely, therefore, to have spent £3-6-0 on a song sheet. After another half hour of anagrammatic trial and error, Head's meaning finally became clear. Separating "upapes" into three words, "up a pes," was the key. Both the price and the entry now made sense. "To: The Wallen up a pes of a Siler by an Irishman" meant that Head was crediting Rods for having an Irishman wall up a piece of a cellar.51

Had Head spelled everything correctly, less of himself would emerge from his entries. His writing is not the elegant calligraphic hand of the clerks who kept accounts for James Logan.52 It is that of the harried man of commerce trying to economize on paper as he squeezed one more entry onto the page.

B. "Hearing" Head Speak

By phonetically transcribing his speech into his entries, Head forces his readers to use their sense of hearing, not just sight. Sounding out Head's words in the same manner in which he expressed himself to his customers, suppliers, neighbors, and family, brings one closer to Head himself.

Like a Cockney of today, Head often failed to pronounce his "h's." When Head was hungry, he went to Daniel Hillman in the market and asked for "ukelbares" and "ages," not huckleberries and haggis. When cold or otherwise in need of fuel, it was cords of "Ikery," not hickory, that Head bought from John Rambo, Isaac Janiens [Jennings?], and Banjamin [Benjamin] Mason. Head also often dropped "g's" at the end of words. Thus, it was "paken Case[s]" that he supplied to James Steel. "R's" were also involuntarily inserted. The hauling of shingles was credited to John Smith as "horlen." Likewise, Head charged Benjamin Lee, "To Stichen - 2 Clorth Covers" for saddles. Head also occasionally dropped his vowels. He thus satisfied his £1-15-0 cemetery subscription by 30 bushels of lime to "The Burel Ground." Head's way of pronouncing pint was particularly distinctive. Whether he was buying peas from Hillman, oil from Caleb Ransted [Ranstead], wine from Henry Bates, or selling molasses to Steel and John Clifton, or rum to Thomas Georg [George], Head frequently referred to them as "points."53

Pronunciation of Head's phonetic spelling also suggests how some of his Philadelphia contemporaries spoke. In that respect, John Head's account book is comparable to Richard Holmes's The English Primrose, which informs us of how Shakespeare and his fellow players may have conversed in an earlier period.54

Head's speech was probably mostly a product of his Suffolk roots. From his pronunciation and phrasing, a philologist might be able to discern such information more accurately, and even whether Head had spent any time elsewhere, as in London. Not coming to Philadelphia until age 29 or 30, Head's dialect was well-set long before his arrival. It was equally strong when addressing many of his customers: Hinery [Henry] Clifton, George Emblen [Emlen], Thomas Fitchwartr [Fitzwater], Josier Forster [Josiah Foster], Artha [Arthur] Jones, Georg McCarl [George McCall], and Frances Richerson [Francis Richardson]. Even though George Vaux VIII seemed partial to his ancestor's status as a Quaker elder or minister, what comes through is the clear voice of a Suffolk joiner, fully conversant with his trade and the "duftails [dovetails], Gimblits [gimlets], scuchens [escutcheons], and Inges [hinges]," necessary to perform it.55

[ Foreword ][ Section 1-2 ][ Section 3-4 ][ Section 5-9 ][ Section 10-10d ][ Section 10e-Conclusion ]
[ The Account Book as Artifact ][ Acknowledgments ]
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