Traders National Bank (Birmingham, Ala.). Collection of 59 volumes of typescripts, in English on paper. Birmingham, ca. 1922–27. Small 8vos.
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This collection of 59 black leather binders, original business records produced across the mid-1920s by the Traders National Bank of Birmingham, Alabama, provides a window on day-to-day banking practices from that period. The collection was written to establish a kind of institutional memory—in the words
of the author, “[to preserve] a record of things, in the main, which have been learned by the management of this Bank, from experience, . . . with the purpose of avoiding the necessity of learning the same things over again by future experiences.” Replete with quotations from the Bible, Longfellow,
Greek myth, Henry Ford, Shakespeare, etc.—yet still in one crisp voice, and with a sense of humor that is not entirely repressed—it sets forth the banking, business, and indeed personal philosophy of its writer/compiler: Bank president “Jno. H. Frye,” as he type-signs himself at the end of his “Regulations” section.
The banking and business memoranda here both contemplate and direct Traders National’s daily operations (though with references beyond these), giving practical information and advice for use both by management and by the employees of each of the Bank’s departments. The compendium covers the entire range of bank operations, from general discussions of the organization of a bank or the qualifications and duties of an executive officer to more mundane matters. Each department’s volumes contain “the basics,” so there is repetition here; but particulars for each department can then become particular indeed. For example, some memoranda relate to customer service and the handling of complaints; conducting business by telephone; the shutting off of lamps and fans when not in use; and procedures for dealing with fires or for dealing with holdups at windows (pistols are to be kept handy). Frye advises on remembering the names of people; the handling of work during the absence of the executive officer; reporting employee dishonesty; the daily balancing of pass books; precautions to be taken against paying checks on which payment has been stopped; canvassing the newspapers for news of marriages, deaths,
business start-ups, etc., that might bring in new business; and remembering to—for heaven’s sake!—lock the doors.
An anecdote told to reinforce that last point is not to be forgotten; nor would one wish to miss Mr. Frye’s observations on (e.g.) the place of women in such an operation such as Traders National (in the interests of keeping workplace “hilarity” down, it’s best circumscribed); how to manage accounts for people who cannot write their names (though in fact these accounts are seldom desirable in the first place); the qualities of good prose (almost anything benefits from being cut by a third); and the credit (un)worthiness of divorced men.
Offering another kind of interest, especially when viewed within the context of the bank failures of the late 1920s and early 1930 soon to come, are notes on the Bank’s experience in the Panic of 1907, the months following the commencement of World War I in 1914, and the period of deflation that began in 1920. Frye directly considers how to deal with the possibility of depositor panic and other adverse banking conditions in the future.
The Traders National Bank became, in 1927, the American-Traders National Bank; it merged in 1931 with the First National Bank of Birmingham in 1931. These facts, along with a 1922 date given in passing, allow us to date the volumes.
Provenance: Pres. Frye’s personal set of his manuals.
Contemporary flexible black ring binders. Very good condition. Proof positive that management manuals need not be soporific and that some aspects of good management are surely eternal, these volumes are a treasure trove of American history both business and social.
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