A Country Store Ledger

            Nowadays when a shopper walks into most any store, several small signs on the door indicate which credit cards he can use, if he doesn’t wish to pay cash.  A person can pay with Mastercard, Visa, American Express, or several other cards.  Can you imagine the response someone would get if, instead of paying in cash, he asked to pay his bill in potatoes?  Or lumber?  Or hogs?  Such a request sounds strange today, but in years gone by, that request would have sounded completely normal.
            In the archives of the Boone-Duden Historical Society, the 1883-1888 ledger of the Seib and Mades General Store in Hamburg offers evidence of a time when bills were paid in a variety of creative ways.  Although the ledger unfortunately does not detail the purchases area farmers made, it is quite thorough in describing how these people paid their bills.  Cash was often only part of the payment.  Often the ledger notes a payment “by” something: by oats, by wood, by potatoes, by pork, by plow, by labor, by sawing wood, by corn, by beef, by hay, and even “by old wagon”! 
The Seib and Mades Store
            For example, on November 29, 1883, Thomas Livergood settled his bill of $14.15 by paying $13.15 cash and “by meat” for the rest.  The ledger doesn’t specify what kind of meat, and it doesn’t say whether Mr. Seib had it for supper or sold it to another customer!  On October 9, 1888, Pitman Mound paid his bill of $13.60 with $10.00 cash, and “by wood” ($1.00), “by potatoes” (.60), and “by road work” ($2.00).  William P. Wallace paid part of his bill with three hogs worth $25.00 and a dollar’s worth of apples.  A. J. Journey apparently settled part of his obligation to Seib and Mades by giving two people a ride somewhere; the ledger states he paid “by two passengers” ($2.00).  John Muschany paid “by lumber” worth $99.35 in the summer and early fall of 1883.  His account states his bill included $50.00 cash, so apparently Seib and Mades sometimes made cash loans to farmers. 
            The old ledger tells some other interesting stories.  Albert Leitz accumulated a debt of $90.75 during a five month period.  On March 5, he was hired by Seib and Mades for “1 mo. Labor” and was paid $20.00 on April 5.  This hiring was repeated every month until the end of July when Leitz was hired for “2 wks. labor” for $10.75 to finish paying his bill. 
            Dr. John L. Martin, a local physican, once paid $3.50 of his bill “by practice” and on another occasion he paid $31.50 “by medical account.”   Of course, Seib and Mades left no record of their doctor visits, but someone must have been pretty sick or sick for a long time to accumulate a doctor’s bill of that amount in the 1880’s.
The store's ledger
            Very few bills were paid off without any cash at all.  One such example is dated August 16, 1883.  James Long paid his entire bill without using cash.  He paid “by bit” (.60), “by plowing” (.65), “by wheels” (.50), “by oil stone” (.40), “by green paint” (.25), “by brown paint” (.25), and “by iron brace” (.20).
            The ledger also seems to indicate that sometimes Seib and Mades simply forgave debts.  One account is credited $1.45 “by discount,” and another account in 1883 is credited “by Bill allowed” to end the farmer’s debt.
            Sometimes a dusty, old book can provide some pretty interesting reading!  The ledger of the Seib and Mades country store in Hamburg is surely one example of such a book.  Whether they paid “by shoats,” “by green clover,” “by flour,” “by bran,” “by mutton,” or “by firewood,” the farmers of the 1880’s figured out ways to take care of their bills, and they did it without the use of Mastercard, Visa, or American Express!