Friday, May 16, 2014

New acquisition: Cash Book of William Coombs Thompson

This beautifully bound cash book provides a glimpse into the daily activities of William Coombs Thompson (1802-1877). Thompson, who read law in Boston and then spent his later years in Worcester, practiced for the bulk of his career as a lawyer in Plymouth, New Hampshire. That's where he was working during the almost five-year period covered by this book (March 1833-December 1837).  Reading the entries feels like time-traveling back to the 19th century.  There's the expected income from clients for drafting and serving writs and preparing deeds, but there are also expenses for bushels of oats, loaves of sugar, and apples (for his horse?).  His entries in the debit column for March 30, 1833 include an expense for powder & shot!

As you can see from the attached image, the book is arranged with credits on the left side and debits on the right. If I'm correctly understanding his system (by no means a given), Thompson used the terms in way we think of them now when looking at a bank statement--credits are money received (left) and debits are payments made (right).  This seems unusual to me, as I believe the terms are used in the opposite way in traditional accounting/bookkeeping speak. Traditional bookkeeping also typically puts debits on the left and credits on the right.  Corrections and clarifications from those more knowledgeable than me are always welcome!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

New Exhibit: Recent Additions to the Collection (Spring 2014)

I’m pleased to announced that there is a new exhibit on display in the Rare Book Room, featuring exciting new additions to our collection over the past few years. Some of our most intriguing additions are documents that came directly out of legal practice in the colonies and early America, illuminating the real people practicing and affected by the law. Many would be the source of interesting research projects. Some of my favorites: a 1746 Hatfield, MA complaint against a man named Medad Negro, identified as a black manservant, for burning down a barn; a recognizance for a 14 year-old boy accused of murdering an American Indian woman; a 1819 partnership agreement between two Boston attorneys; a 1819 letter from Joseph Story asserting the need for new bankruptcy legislation; new additions to our fabulous Francis Bacon collection; and much, much more. 

The exhibit will be on display through mid-August, so please wander in as the semester wraps up or during the summer. Selected images, descriptions, and a brochure can be found on the exhibit webpage!


Laurel Davis
Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts