Collecting Delaware Books

Delaware Directories

Old city, county, and state directories are among the most interesting and valuable Delaware collectibles. These early compendiums were important references for businesses, canvassers, and politicians. Today they provide a window into life a century ago.

In their Bibliography of Delaware through 1960, H. Clay Reed and Marion Bjornson Reed cite a Wilmington city directory as early as 1811. Thompson's Mercantile & Professional Directory of the State of Delaware was published for several years, including 1851. Boyd's Wilmington Directory was published regularly from 1857 on. Boyd also published the Delaware State Directory, 1859-1860.

Dover Census and Directory was compiled by E. B. Louderbough and published in 1879. Frank M. Truitt compiled a Georgetown Directory in 1904.

Small towns also attracted directory makers. The Peninsula Directory of 1882 included town demographics and lists of residents over a wide area. Barry's Delaware State Directory of 1891 and 1897 even included land prices, local transportation, and crops grown. These publications were probably issued in other years as well.

Around 1920, the Farm Journal published three county directories titled Farm Directory of Sussex County , Farm Directory of Kent County , and Farm Directory and Business Directory of New Castle County. Information about the size of each family and sometimes the type of farming is included. Farm Journal directories are much sought by collectors. Unfortunately, they are seldom found in good condition. The paste used to attach printed paper to the boards seems to attract household insects, which eat away the surface.

Many directories listing only industries were published. These were sometimes intended, not as reference, but as an inducement for other businesses to move to the area. It seems that industrial development committees are not a new idea. Some titles of interest are Delaware's Industries, An Historical and Industrial Review, 1891 Industrial Wilmington by George A. Wolf, 1898 Wilmington, Delaware, Its Productive Industries by A. J. Clement, 1888 Industries of Delaware by Richard Edwards, 1880 and The Industrial Advance of Wilmington edited by I. J. Isaacs, 1887. Directories too numerous to list were published in the middle and late 20th century.

Boyd's Wilmington Directory

Boyd's Wilmington Directory of 1857 is typical of city directories. Its full title is The Wilmington Directory, containing the names of citizens, a business directory, state and city records, and an appendix of much useful information. It is 8 by 5 inches with impressed brown cloth boards. The spine is stamped "Boyd's Wilmington Directory 1857" in gold.

book store in 1857
Wilmington Book Store 1857

Boyd's was the firm of William F. Boyd of New York. Compiling a directory was a specialized business, requiring trained personnel. Firms with experience in this kind of work would send in teams, often in partnership with a local publisher. The directory was sold by Joshua T. Heald, bookseller and stationer, of 127 Market Street (see picture) and contains four pages of front matter, 192 pages of text, and unpaginated ads. The price was one dollar, a large sum in 1857, reflecting the importance of such a directory to business. (Today, the Delaware Chamber of Commerce directory of businesses sells for $75.)

The listing of citizens, their occupations, and their addresses fills 131 pages. Some of the occupations from the first few pages include wharf builder, cabinet maker, laborer, machinist, washerwoman, waiter, grocer, coach finisher, waterman, turner, cooper, printer, bricklayer, nurse, carpenter, clerk, foreman, teamster, tailoress, dyer, hotel proprietor, watchmaker, baker, auger maker, domestic, butcher, engineer, shoemaker, segar maker, riveter, nailmaker, physician, postmaster, and morocco dresser.

Ads for local businesses are spread throughout the directory. Products offered include lumber, safes, stoves, ice, liquor, segars [sic], farm implements, cordage, and gold and silver ware.

Most furniture purveyors also directed funerals, as was common in the 19th century. Service businesses included savings fund societies, express agents, and druggists. Photographers would create your image on a melainotype, daguerreotype, or ambrotype.

Passenger and freight service was available by steamship to Philadelphia or Penns Grove as often as twice a day, though the Bush Line still had one ship under sail. The Morse Line provided direct telegraph communication from 3rd and Market to New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Charleston, and New Orleans.

The appendix of useful information lists, among other things, the faculties of the city schools. This was the decade when compulsory public education was adopted in most of the United States. The population of Wilmington was about 16,000, of which ten per cent was African American.

Among the interesting statistics is a breakdown of new buildings in Wilmington. One four-story brick, 55 three-story brick, 78 two-story brick, one one-story brick, seven two-story frame, and four one-story frame structures were built in the previous year.

Telephone Directories

Increasingly, the job of enumerating households and small businesses has fallen to the telephone companies. Diamond State Telephone issued state-wide directories starting in 1897. "State-wide" is a misnomer. Phone service south of Smyma was provided by small independent companies not affiliated with Diamond State Telephone.

(There are no independent local telephone companies in Delaware today, and no one we spoke to at the Public Service Commission can remember when the last one sold out. However, there are still examples in Maryland, like the Armstrong Telephone Company of Rising Sun in Cecil County.)

Diamond State Telephone's lines and alliances reached outside the state: directories often included Warwick, Galena, and Elkton, Maryland Kennett Square, Landenberg, and Mendenhall, Pennsylvania and Penns Grove, New Jersey.

The 1930 directory is typical. It was 9 by 6 inches and had 180 white pages and 92 yellow pages. A hole was drilled in the upper left comer to hang it by a string. Listings were organized by communities, which made looking up a name difficult unless you had a good idea where the person lived.

Thumbing through the 1930 white pages is fascinating: legendary Delaware literary , public, and corporate figures seem more real once their names are found in the phone book. If you wanted a chat with T. Coleman du Pont about his highway you dialed 9832. Christopher L. Ward would talk law with you at 8531, but to discuss his books you would probably call his home number, 2-4245, in Greenville. To enroll your child in Ellen Q. Sawin's new Sunny Hill School (now the Sanford School) you dialed 110 and asked the operator for Hockessin-19.

The yellow pages are sobering to a modem business owner. Not one in 500 businesses listed in 1930 exists today. Of 31 automobile dealers, only Rittenhouse Motors of Newark is still selling cars. Not a single restaurant has survived. All the hotels are gone except the Hotel du Pont, which was called the du Pont Biltmore Hotel between 1927 and 1933. [Webmaster's note in 2004: Rittenhouse Motors is gone too.]

Independent telephone companies were numerous in the first half of this century. Some of them literally ran their signals over barbed wire fences, where they were available. Directories published by any of them would be a real collector's prize.


Old directories fetch good prices. There is a steady demand for them. Some representative prices at local auctions and book shops during the last four years include Delaware's Industries, 1891, $50 another copy in poor condition at auction, $27.50 Industries of Delaware, 1880, $100 Boyd's Delaware State Directory 1856-1860, $140 six copies of Boyd's Wilmington Directory, various dates and conditions, $65 to $165 each various Wilmington directories from 1880 to 1917, $45 each Farm Journal Directories of any of the three counties, $30 to $100 , depending on condition (caution: there are reprints) Diamond State Telephone directory for 1917, $47.50 same for Summer 1930, $35.

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