Rare broadside interest table printed in pre-Revolutionary Boston

Printed by W. McAlpine and J. Fleeming, A TABLE of Simple Interest at 6 per cent. for any Sum, from one Day to a Year, calculated to a Farthing. Haverhill, July 10, 1765. Boston, 1765.
Letterpress broadside, printed area 15 ¾”h x 17 ½”w on a ca. 17 ½”h x 21 ½”w sheet. Line of headline type surmounting “An explanation of the table” at upper left, followed by text in 25 columns, flanked by a typographical border. Minor foxing, soiling and staining; some wear along folds and at edges; and a few recent notes in pencil.

A rare and surprisingly appealing broadside interest table printed by McAlpine and Fleeming in pre-Revolutionary Boston.

A close examination reveals that the broadside features in fact three tables in one, each enabling the user to calculate simple interest down to the nearest farthing. The table at left calculates the interest on loans up to £1000 with very short terms from 1 to 15 days; that at right on loans up to £1000 with terms from 1 to 12 months; and that at top right calculates monthly interest for small loans between 1 and 15 shillings.

The very existence of the broadside is interesting, as it points at two core features of economic life in Britain’s American Colonies, namely a lack of banks and frequent currency shortages, which together catalyzed widespread, informal lending by and to individuals at all levels of the economy. Many of the participants, either infrequent lenders or borrowers and/or uncomfortable with the math involved, would have welcomed a calculating tool such as this one. The sophistication (or lack thereof) of the intended audience is reflected in the elementary character of the “explanation”:

“Find your sum in the first column under £, and you have the interest thereof in the same line. But if it be in the table of days, and it cannot be found at one view, you must take it at two operations : for example, suppose I was to find the interest of any sum for 13 days, I add the 10 days the three days together, and it gives my desire.”

The broadside is datelined Haverhill, July 10, 1765, just weeks after news of the passage of the Stamp Act had arrived in the Colonies. The author is not named and, frustratingly, is identified only as “I” in the “explanation” at upper left.

Printers William McAlpine and John Fleeming were immigrants from Scotland who from 1765-66 operated a short-lived partnership on Marlborough Street in Boston. In 1770 Fleeming later married Alice Church, sister of prominent Boston physician Benjamin Church. In August 1775 Fleeming was the intended recipient of an encoded letter from Church that instead fell into General Washington’s hands and revealed that he was spying for the British.

Bristol, Supplement to Charles Evans’ American bibliography, B2621. OCLC 5369506 lists holdings at the American Antiquarian Society and Library Company of Philadelphia only (Oct. 2020). Shipton, C.K. National index of American imprints through 1800, 41591. English Short Title Catalogue, W11034. Not in Ford, Broadsides, ballads, &c. printed in Massachusetts, or Karpinski, Bibliography of Mathematical Works Printing in America through 1850.