An occasional blog about things related to Arkansas, Vienna, 1930's, public policy, growing up in Fayetteville, little known people in history, Sen. Fulbright, Birch Bay, and German immigration, plus books about these topics and other interesting subjects. Certainly, the blog is eclectic (at best).
Hillbilly Credit Ratings: The 1910 Credit Guide for Northwest Arkansas Businesses
A couple of years ago as I spent some time in Fayetteville,
I regularly visited local stores selling used books. I learned that the best (i.e.,read-worthy or resalable)
used books could be bought at the Fayetteville library store. Also, I noted the
Goodwill thrift store on College Avenue often put out some desirable books, but
other Goodwill stores around Fayetteville seldom had books I wanted (perhaps
they had all been taken before I got there). The worst thrift stores for used books
were the area Salvation Army stores. At one time, these stores had filled many
shelves with books, but apparently they had decided to quit doing so.
I mention the various thrift stores selling used books, and my
low regard for the book stock of the Salvation Army stores, to make this point:
never give up on stores selling used books. This lesson was made clear one day
when I was checking local thrift stores for books, but finding few of interest.
Discouraged, I had decided to skip the Fayetteville Salvation Army store, but
at the last minute pulled into its parking lot and dashed in for a quick look. There,
tucked away on a bottom shelf, below several shelves full of worthless
hard-back novels, I found the best book I have ever bought at a thrift store.
The book’s title was not very enticing: Credit Guide: “The
Red Book” (second edition).And the
large format book (8” by 11”, three inches thick) was in poor shape: its pages
had pulled away from the binding and its cover was dirty. Despite its shortcomings, the book was an
exciting find because it is rare (it may be the only copy in existence) and it
contains otherwise unavailable information of genealogical interest.
This book, published in 1910 by the Inter-State Credit Men’s
Association in Kansas City, contains the credit ratings of people living in Benton,
Washington, Madison, Franklin, Crawford, and Pope Counties of Arkansas, plus a
few other scattered locations. Altogether, the 900-page book has about 54,000
listings,each with a person’s name and credit rating(s), and most have information about the person’s occupation and where he or she lived.
Credit Men’s Association and its Credit Guide: “The Red Book”
The Credit Guide: “The Red Book was product of the
growing effort in 1910 to help merchants determine who could or could not be
trusted with credit. Its publisher, the Inter-State Credit Men’s Association
(I-SCMS), was one of many “Credit Men’s Associations” that had been created
throughout the United States, especially in large cities. The local
associations had banded together in 1896 to form the National Association of
Credit Men (NACM), which continued to grow in size, importance, and influence during the decades that followed. 
Until 1920, when the NACM created a national credit
clearinghouse, credit information was assembled mainly local associations for
local markets. A local Credit Men’s Association collected feedback about the
payment records of people to whom its members (merchants and other businessmen)
had extended credit. This feedback was assembled and published in books such as
the one I found.
The preface to my copy of Credit Guide: “The Red Book”
explained that the information in the book was not dependent, as were previous
efforts at credit ratings, on the “opinions of bankers, attorneys and others.” This
type of credit rating, it observed, had been “vague, uncertain and
indefinite.” Instead, according to the preface:
In placing this work in the hands
of our subscribers, we wish to emphasize the fact that the ratings contained
herein are purely the expressions of business men, based upon their experiences
with the parties rated. We believe that this is the true plan of establishing
credit. It is information gained by actual experience, as distinguished from
mere opinion formed by observation. We have great confidence that its merits
among businessmen will soon be universally recognized.
We believe therefore, we are
warranted in the assertion that our ratings are more nearly accurate than those
attained from the ordinary source, and as the value of our plan gains increased
recognition, our ratings will be correspondingly more correct. We, therefore,
wish to emphasize the importance of mutuality in effort, between our
subscribers and the Agency, to the end that each may profit by the other’s
I assume that Credit Men’s Associations in other major
cities and regions were using the same methods to produce similar books for
their subscribers. However, such books are difficult to locate. A Google search finds few references to similar
credit guides, and Google Books has no digital copies of such books. Also,
early credit rating information is not available through Ancestry.com,
indicating that it does not have access to early copies of credit guides.
Probably the main reason why so few old credit guides have
survived is that they were not general circulation books: they could not be purchased by the general
public and they were not included in library collections. In fact, these books
were not sold to anyone. They were instead loaned to subscribers for a
The limitations on the use of the 1910 Credit Guide I bought
were specified in a form pasted on the back of the front cloth board:
This volume of “The RED BOOK’
Credit Guide is not sold but is loaned to ________ Subscriber for ______ from _______ 1910 as per specific agreement
of contract, and if found in the hands of those not entitled to use it will be
taken possession of by the Inter-State Credit Men’s Association and all rights
under conditions of contract will be annulled.
In my copy of the book, the blanks are filled in showing Strode
– Long Mer Co was the subscriber for 20 months from Dec 19
1910. This book was “No. 1351.”
The “Strode-Long Mer Co” was a general merchandise store located
in Bentonville. Its owners were Claude Henry Strode (Oct. 18, 1879 – Oct. 10,
1958) and H. B. Long, about whom I found little information. Strode left the
mercantile business in the middle of the 1910s and had a long career managing
vinegar plants (mostly for the Ozark Cider and Vinegar Co.) in several cities,
both in Arkansas and other states.
Likely, this book should have been either destroyed or
returned to the I-SMCA after August 19, 1912, when the period of the loan
expired. Fortunately, it was neither
returned or destroyed, but instead was stored away for a hundred years until
someone decided to get rid of it by donating it to the Salvation Army.
The Credit Information
As the Inter-State Credit Men’s Association
explained in the preface, the Credit Guide contained credit evaluations
of people by merchants who had extended them credit. Some of the listings have
only one rating, others have several. The
ratings are on two scales and are abbreviated as follows:
KIND OF PAY:
P. Prompt Pay
F. Fair Pay
S. Slow Pay
J. Considered honest but unfortunate
circumstances prevented paying me
X. Would Request Cash
KIND OF CREDIT:
A. Over $1,000.
B. 300 to 500
C. 100 to 300
D. 50 to 100
K. 20 to 50
L. 10 to 25
P. 5 to 10
V. 1 to 5
For illustrate the use of the scales, here are three
actual listings and their meanings
Branham G W farmer Ozark … FP FV
Mr. Branham had ratings from two businesses that had
extended him credit. One reported “Fair Pay” for credit given him of $5 to $10;
another reported “Fair Pay” for credit of $1 to $5. Apparently “Fair Pay” was
worse than “Prompt Pay,” but better than the other categories.
Branshetter M. S. laborer Midland ….2X
Mr. Branshetter also had two ratings, both of
them bad. Apparently, he did not pay off in an acceptable way the credit
extended to him by two businesses.
Branson Levi miner Hartford …. SV X
Mr. Branson had two rating. One rating indicated
that he was slow in paying off the $1 to 5 credit extended to him by one
business; another business reported that he did not acceptably pay off the
credit given him.
Where Your Ancestors Credit Worthy or Deadbeats?
The beauty of the Credit Guide: “The Red Book”
is that it provides information not available elsewhere about the credit
worthiness of about 54,000 people (mostly men) living in Northwest Arkansas in
1910. If you had ancestors living in the six covered counties during this
period, you might be able to learn something new about them from this book.
For example, in 1910, I had ancestors living in
Madison County (Brannon and Couch families) and in Franklin County (Durning and
Harris families). So, I can use the book to find out if they received credit
and, if they did, how their use of credit was rated.
Apparently, my Couch and Harris family ancestors
did not use credit during the time the 1910 credit ratings were assembled. They
do not show up in the book.
Among 19 listings of Brannons, one is located in
Health, where, in 1910, my grandmother – ten years old -- was living with her
parents Robert C. and Sibbie Shackelford Brannon. Likely, Robert is included in
a listing for “Brannon & Son” who were merchants living in Health. This listing had one rating: X.
Brannon & Son had not adequately paid off credit one business had extended to them.
While no listing can be found for a “Durning,”
there are two listings for “During.” One of them is obviously a listing for
John Lewis Durning (1849 – 1916) a farmer living in Cass. He had two credit ratings, SP and SV. These
ratings document that he was slow repaying credit of $5 to $10 to one business
and slow repaying $1 to $5 to another business.
Another “During” is listed: J. Z. During, a farmer living in Ozark. He was
probably a relative, but I am not sure who this person was. I have no record of
a Durning with those initials. However, many Durnings moved to Ozark in the early
part of the 20th Century; most were the children of George Durning
(1873 – 1912), son of John Lewis Durning and Polly Welton.
Whatever his relation to the clan of Cass Durnings, J. Z. “During” did
not have a good credit history in 1910.
He had two ratings. One, SV, indicated that he was slow in paying off
credit of $1 to $5. The other rating, X, documented his failure to adequately
pay off credit extended by another business.
As the examples of my ancestors show, the Credit
Guide can provide some interesting morsels of information about the history
of families living in Northwest Arkansas.
Want to Check the Credit Ratings of Your Ancestors?
If you had ancestors living
in Washington, Benton, Madison, Franklin, Crawford, Clark, or Pope Counties in
1910 and would like to know their credit ratings, use the comment section below
to provide the last name(s) and their likely location and I will post the
relevant information (if any is available) from the Credit Guide below.
Last Name: Tisdale
Last name: Vyles
Last name: Drake
Lemming (or Lemmings, Lemming, Lemning) possibly in Pope County
Last name: Leming, Lenning, Lemming and Lemings.
Last name: Glenn
 For more in-depth information on the Credit Men’s Associations, see David
Sellers Smith. The Elimination of the Unworthy: Credit Men and Small Retailers
in Progressive Era Capitalism. The Journal
of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, (9) 2. April 2010, 199-220 and Rowena Olegario. A Culture of Credit: Embedding Trust and
Transparency in American Business, Harvard University Press, 2006.