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 {{{edition}}}
Language English
Volumes 2 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. 43 cm. 2 v. : front., 24 fold. maps, diagrs. Title in red and black; title vignette. Printed in two columns. Frontispiece engraved by C. Mosley; maps engraved by Thomas Kitchin, J. Smith, R. W. Seale, and E. Bowen.
Location [[Shelf {{{shelf}}}]]
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

Malachy Postlethwayt (1707-1767) was a British economic writer and author of several publications including The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce. Beginning in the 1730’s he was employed by the prime minister, Robert Walpole, as a government publicist.[1] He 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, which was released as two installments between 1751 and 1755.[4]

The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, as compared to other popular economic writings at the time, illustrated Postlethwayt's ‘greater interest in political problems; his more intense economic nationalism; and his exuberant 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 practice 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 1766 London edition 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.

View this book in William & Mary's online catalog.


  1. Peter Groenewegen, "Postlethwayt, Malachy (1707–1767)", in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004-), accessed 26 Sept 2013. (Subscription required for access.)
  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 2nd ed. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983), 2:359.