The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce

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by Malachy Postlethwayt

The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce

Title page from The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, volume one, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Malachy Postlethwayt
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: Printed for H. Woodfall, A. Millar, J. and R. Tonson, J. Rivington, J. Hinton, R. Baldwin, L. Hawes and W. Clarke and R. Collins, R. Horsfield, W. Johnston, T. Longman, J. Brotherton, J. Dodsley, T. Payne, J. Robson, T. Lowndes, W. Nicoll, and J. Knox
Date 1766
Edition Third
Language English
Volumes 2 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. Folio (43 cm.)
Location Shelf B-5
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

Malachy Postlethwayt (1707 – 1767) was a British economic writer and author. Beginning in the 1730's he was employed by Prime Minister Robert Walpole as a government publicist.[1] Postlethwayt was elected as a fellow to the Society of Antiquaries in March of 1735.[2] In 1743 he began his employment with the Royal Africa Company, and was elected a member of the company's court of assistants in 1745.[3] During the 1740’s and early 1750's Postlethwayt prepared his most critically acclaimed work, The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, which was released as two installments between 1751 and 1755.[4]

Frontispiece, volume one.

Postlethwayt's Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, as compared to other popular economic writings at the time, illustrated his interest in political problems, economic nationalism, and a belief in the economic usefulness of experimental philosophy.[5] The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce contained many practical articles on inventions and improvements, as well as on commercial practices such as banking, commercial bills, and customs house business.

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "Postlethwayt’s Dictionary. 1. of the vols only. fol." and given by Thomas Jefferson to his son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph. Later appears on Randolph's 1832 estate inventory as "'Dictionary of Trade & Commerce' ($2.00 value)." We do not have enough information to conclusively identify which edition Wythe owned. George Wythe's Library[6] on LibraryThing indicates this, adding "Several folio editions were published, the first in 1751-55." The Brown Bibliography[7] lists the third edition published in London in 1766 based on the copy Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress in 1815.[8] This was the edition purchased by the Wolf Law Library.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary speckled calf with spines in seven compartments with raised bands. Tooled in gilt on either side of each band. Dark red and dark green morocco lettering-pieces in the second and third compartments, the others with a repeat decoration in gilt with marbled endpapers. Purchased from Donald a. Heald Rare Books.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

Full text

See also


  1. Peter Groenewegen, "Postlethwayt, Malachy (1707–1767)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed September 26, 2013.
  2. Robert Bennett, "Malachy Postlethwayt 1707-67: Genealogy and Influence of an Early Economist and 'Spin-Doctor'," Genealogists’ Magazine 1 (2006): 1-8.
  3. Groenewegen, "Postlethwayt, Malachy."
  4. Bennett, "Malachy Postlethwayt."
  5. E. A. Johnson, "Postlethwayt, the Publicist," in Predecessors of Adam Smith: The Growth of British Economic Thought (New York: Prentice Hall, 1937), 402.
  6. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on November 13, 2013.
  7. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  8. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 2:359 [no.2102].