THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

10 posts categorized "Business"

09 February 2017

Not So Strange – the East India Company Chairman in 1814

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Sir Stuart Strange is the Chairman of the East India Company in the TV drama Taboo which is set in the year 1814.  He is an unsympathetic character, calculating and ruthless, prone to ranting, swearing, and grabbing fellow Company men by their coat lapels to get his point across.

But who was the real East India Company Chairman in 1814? Was he at all like Strange? 

The Company's Chairman in 1814 was The Honourable William Fullerton Elphinstone (1740-1834). His memorial tablet in Marylebone Parish Church gave this description of his personality:

He was equally remarkable for sound judgment and decision, united the highest firmness to the utmost kindness of heart, and retained to the latest period of human life the warmth of his benevolence, and the serenity of his temper.

Kind, warm, benevolent and serene – not the model for Sir Stuart then!

Elphistone, William Fullerton

William Fullerton Elphinstone from Sir William Fraser, Elphinstone family book of the Lords Elphinstone, Balmerino and Coupar Noc

William Elphinstone was born in Stirlingshire, Scotland, on 13 September 1740, the third son of Charles, 10th Lord Elphinstone, and his wife Clementina. At the age of fifteen he went to sea and after a couple of voyages decided on a career in the East India Company’s maritime service. He studied navigation before securing an appointment as midshipman on the Company ship Winchelsea, sailing to India and China 1758-1760. Elphinstone went on to serve as third mate in the Hector and as captain of the Triton, completing his final voyage for the Company in 1777.

In 1774 Elphinstone married Elizabeth Fullerton, eldest daughter of William Fullerton of Carstairs, Lanarkshire, and henceforward became known as William Fullerton Elphinstone. Elizabeth was heir to her uncle John Fullerton of Carberry, Midlothian.

Elphinstone prospered in Company service, aided by the wise investment of a gift of £2,000 from a great uncle. After retiring from the sea, he set his sights on a new career as a Director of the East India Company. He first entered the Court of Directors in 1786 and was elected Chairman in 1804, 1806 and 1814. Considerable patronage was at his disposal - his sons and nephews had distinguished careers in Company service. He received hundreds of petitions on behalf of young men seeking advancement.  In 1806 his ‘very sincere friend’ the Prince Regent wrote to Elphinstone recommending a Mr Farquhar, and in 1817 the Duke of Kent sought clerkships at East India House for two brothers named Dodd.

  Elphinstone IOR D 11 p.135 22 Feb 1826
IOR/D/11 p.135 Minutes of Committee of Correspondence 22 February 1826 Noc

Elphinstone suffered a stroke in 1824 which temporarily deprived him of his powers of speech. In February 1826, aged 85, he informed the Company that he would not stand in the forthcoming elections for Directors because of his state of health.  The Court expressed regret and wished ‘that every possible comfort may attend him at the close of a life the greater portion of which (embracing the unexampled period of 70 years) has been devoted with talents of no ordinary description to promote the interests of the East India Company and to advance the welfare of the inhabitants of the extensive Empire committed to their charge’.

William Fullerton Elphinstone died at Enfield on 3 May 1834 and was buried a week later in Marylebone Parish Church, close to his Harley Street home.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Sir William Fraser, Elphinstone family book of the Lords Elphinstone, Balmerino and Coupar, vol.2 (1897)
W Bruce Bannerman (ed.), Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica vol V Third Series (1904)

Follow the career of William Fullerton Elphinstone in the records of the East India Company's Court of Directors (IOR/B) and the Committee of Correspondence (IOR/D) - East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there is access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.

 

19 January 2017

From Stats Man to Ad Man: Jesse Scott

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The history of advertising is told via great men: in the early 1960s David Ogilvy wrote his Confessions of an Advertising Man and Winston Fletcher recently published his memoir-cum-history Powers of Persuasion. This blog tells of an untold life in advertising: that of a journalist turned statistician, Jesse Scott, whose periodical, The Statistical Review of Press Advertising, is often neglected by social and economic historians of modern Britain.

Contentspage

The Statistical Review of Press Advertising October 1949 - a problematic year of continuing austerity for the advertising trade when the Labour government sort to restrain proto-Mad Men! 

Jesse Scott migrated to the UK from the US and in 1928 set up a company to publish the American Legion magazine in Europe. This venture failed but his friends put a proposition to him. They noted that advertising in the UK was expanding fast and so manufacturers and the media required new sources of information: why did he not exploit this gap in the market by getting his company to counter all the ‘soft pedal and hush hush about expenditure’? (The Review, I, 1, October 1932.)

From 1932 to 1962 Scott’s company produced hard facts about the hard sell. The Review published figures on advertising expenditure by surveying quarterly all the space given over to display advertisements in national daily, evening and Sunday papers; provincial daily and evening papers; provincial and suburban weekly papers; and weekly and monthly trade and technical periodicals. From 1956 The Review also included expenditure on commercial television.

Example of data

The Review categorised data by product type, brand and firm: note that expenditure on Mars was the highest, and that this would have been a luxury product during the war and post-war austerity as sweets were rationed and expensive.
  

To compute an estimate of total expenditure, Scott multiplied his estimates of space given to adverts by standard market rates for advertising copy. From the 1940s and beyond, social scientists and the Advertising Association used these figures to calculate total expenditure on advertising, adding in non-mass media forms such as posters and direct mail (see Clayton for a critical evaluation of these methods).

Advertisement

The Review generated revenue via subscriptions and from adverts placed by media organisations, such as newspaper groups and advertising agencies as illustrated by this page promoting G. S. Royds Ltd.

By the mid twentieth century expenditure on advertising had become a controversial subject: scholars, politicians and cultural commentators alleged that vast sums were being wasted on puffery. In 1953, for example, Aneurin Bevan, a Labour MP, ex-cabinet minister and de facto leader of left-wing faction within the Party, provoked delegates at the Advertising Association conference by labelling advertising as “evil’—a trade that created a consumer who was “passive, besieged, assaulted, battered and robbed” (Sean Nixon, Hard Sell, p. 164).

Make_Do_and_Mend_Art.IWMPST14924

Make do and Mend - The government also advertised and The Review counted this expenditure which, as in this case of a wartime propaganda poster, presented the anti-thesis to the message of private sector adverts: consume more branded goods.

Scott disagreed with this socialist critique and he used his editorials to argue that advertising had social value: it was, he argued, a means by which consumers gained information about products, and thus a vital component of a dynamic capitalist economy. As an American he was ideally placed to promote advertising, which in the US had become, he claimed, ‘an indispensible element in sustaining economic activity’. Scott believed that if British firms were to compete at home and overseas they had to adopt American methods of selling, and embrace advertising wholeheartedly. Jesse Scott, Stats Man, had become Ad Man, an advocate for advertising.

David Clayton
University of York, UK

Further reading:
The Statistical Review of Press Advertising October 1932-December 1962 British Library General Reference Collection P.P.1423.clr.
Clayton, D. (2010) ‘Advertising expenditure in 1950s Britain’, Business History, 52, 651-665.
Nixon, S. (2013) Hard sell: Advertising, affluence and transatlantic relations, c. 1951-69 (Manchester University Press, Manchester).

 

22 November 2016

The business archive of Alan Gradon Thomas

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We’ve met Alan Gradon Thomas before, back in 2013 when my colleague Chantry Westwell came across a festschrift in his honour whilst researching the provenance of a medieval calendar. The recent completion of the cataloguing of Thomas’s extensive business archive seems like a good time to reacquaint ourselves with the esteemed book and manuscript seller of Bournemouth and, latterly, London.

 

Alan Graydon Thomas archive 1

Alan Gradon Thomas archive Noc

 

Thomas was an international dealer in a pre-digital age. He had customers all over the world and all of his business was conducted by letter and telephone, using printed catalogues. It was not uncommon for Thomas to send a catalogue to a customer overseas, receive a letter back some weeks later setting out what the customer wished to buy, only for Thomas to have to write back to say that in the interim he had sold the book or manuscript to another customer.

 

Alan Graydon Thomas archive 2

Three manuscripts purchased from Thomas by the British Library Noc

 

He was a meticulous record keeper and the archive, containing sales ledgers, stock lists, financial records, inventories, papers relating to his superbly researched catalogues, and valuations, spans nearly 50 years. There are hundreds of files of correspondence with his customers, including the major auction houses, important private collectors such as John Wolfson, Sir Karl Popper, Lord Kenyon, Lord Wardington, and Major Abbey, and many of the great collections of the world: the British Library, the British Museum, the Bodleian, the Beinecke, the Folger, the Huntington, and the Royal Library in Brussels, to name just a few. Thomas’s correspondence also contains letters from fellow dealers, and from rare book and manuscript curators, librarians, and experts such as Mirjam Foot, Anthony Hobson, Nicolas Barker, Richard Linenthal, and Christopher de Hamel.

The festschrift alone is evidence of how well Thomas was thought of in the trade. But that high regard is also evident in his being elected President of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association for 1958-1959, during which time he was instrumental in establishing the first London Antiquarian Book Fair. His papers include a large amount of ABA material: committee minutes, annual reports and accounts, newsletters, correspondence, and papers relating to the book fairs.

In turn, Thomas himself had great respect for, and was always very appreciative of, the help of the ‘footsoldiers’ of the trade, the shop assistants and bookroom staff. The archive contains papers relating to collections Thomas ran to mark the retirement of three long serving assistants from Sotheby’s and the British Museum. He assiduously wrote to scores of contacts in the trade to drum up as many financial contributions as possible.

Alan Thomas died in August 1992 “as much an enthusiast - for the arts, literature, the history of ideas and beliefs - at 80 as he was at 20”, as his obituary in The Independent put it.

His archive, given his clientele and the material he dealt with, is an extremely rich resource for those interested in the history and provenance of manuscripts and rare books.

Michael St John-McAlister
Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager  Cc-by

Further reading:
Add MS 89159 Archive of Alan Gradon Thomas
Christopher de Hamel and Richard A. Linenthal (eds), Fine books and book collecting: books and manuscripts acquired from Alan G. Thomas and described by his customers on the occasion of his seventieth birthday (Leamington Spa: James Hall, 1981)

 

 

17 November 2016

A novel way to secure a pension

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The name Thomas Snodgrass will perhaps conjure up for some people an image of an archetypal pen-pushing bureaucrat, and indeed the subject of this tale was a real East India Company civil servant who was appointed writer (clerk) in the Madras Presidency in 1777. 

 

  Superannuated Man

'Superannuated Man' by C E Brock from Charles Lamb, The Last Essays of Elia, ed. William Macdonald (1907)Noc

 

Snodgrass rose to become Collector at Ganjam in Orissa in eastern India, but by 1804 he had left the service under a heavy cloud. The reasons for this can be assumed from the descriptions of a number of files within the India Office Records:

  • Mismanagement of the revenue administration of Ganjam District; removal of Thomas Snodgrass as Collector of Ganjam (IOR/F/4/82/1780)
  • Snodgrass, Thomas. Apology demanded from, for disrespect towards the Government (IOR/E/4/881, pp. 619-624)
  • Snodgrass, Thomas. Enquiry respecting charges of corruption and abuses permitted by, during Collectorship at Ganjam to be completed (IOR/E/4 892, pp. 162, 173-177)
  • Memorials from Thomas Snodgrass to the Court of Directors … in defence of his conduct as Collector of Ganjam (IOR/F/4/141/2475)
  • Snodgrass, Thomas. Memorial requesting re-admittance to Company’s service not decided upon, and tone of letter severely censured (IOR/E/4/892, pp. 161-169)
      

Not surprisingly a difficulty arose later when he tried to claim his pension. How he succeeded in eventually doing so is recounted in the Annals of the Oriental Club, 1824–1858:

'When Mr. Snodgrass applied for a pension the East India Company refused to grant it till he satisfied the Directors that there had been no misappropriation of the revenue under his control as Collector.  He professed that it was impossible to render an account, his papers having been lost in the wreck of a boat on Lake Chilka. The Hon’ble Court was incredulous; whereupon Mr. Snodgrass, meanly attired, posted himself in Leadenhall Street, opposite the India House, and started a new career as a crossing-sweeper. So much sympathy was aroused by the spectacle of a Company’s servant apparently reduced to poverty, that the Court relented and the pension was paid'.

Crossing Sweeper Mayhew

'The Bearded Crossing-Sweeper at the Exchange' from Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor volume 2 Noc

 

This stunt did not prevent his becoming a founder member of the Oriental Club, and also ensured that the Company had to pay him his perhaps ill-gotten pension until he died in 1834. 

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services Cc-by

 

Further reading:
Annals of the Oriental Club, 1824–1858, edited by Stephen Wheeler (1925) -  on the open access shelves in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room (shelfmark OIH367.942).  The entry for Snodgrass appears on pp.153-154.

 

27 September 2016

Report on Boiler Explosions in Britain, 1880

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Last week we told you about an explosion at a Marylebone gunmaker's workshop in 1822 which killed two child workers . Today we look at industrial accidents in 1880 involving boiler explosions.

While cataloguing some India Office Revenue files recently, I came across a copy of the Journal of the Society of Arts, dated 14 May 1880. A short article in it was a reminder of how lethal a place the working environment was in late 19th century Britain.  The article was an abstract of a report containing particulars of visits of inspection and a record of boiler explosions for January to April 1880, presented at a meeting of the Manchester Steam Users’ Association by Lavington Evans Fletcher, the Association’s Chief Engineer.

Mr Fletcher reported that in the first four months of 1880 there had been 2,129 visits of inspection made and 3,830 boilers examined. The inspections had uncovered a total of 448 defects, with 4 described as dangerous, including:
• Furnaces out of shape
• Fractures
• Corrosion
• Blistered plates
• External and internal grooving
• Safety valves out of order
• Blow out apparatus out of order or missing altogether
• Pressure gauges out of order and boilers without such gauges
• Boilers without feed-back pressure valves
• Cases of over pressure and of deficiency of water

Mersey Ironworks

Exterior of the Mersey Steel and Iron Works in Liverpool 1863 Online Gallery

 

It was reported that the year had started badly with eight steam-boiler explosions killing 33 people and injuring another 32, while a tar boiler had burst killing 11 people and injuring 6. Despite there being a high loss of life, investigating the causes of such explosions wasn’t always easy. An explosion at an ironworks in Glasgow killed 25 people and injured another 23, but the inspector sent by the Association was refused permission to examine the boiler both by the owner and the Procurator-Fiscal, and was obliged to return to Manchester without any information on the incident. The disaster was reported on extensively in UK and international newspapers.

When a negligent owner was brought to court, it could be difficult to secure a guilty verdict. A boiler explosion at Ormskirk killing three men had been caused by the wasting away of the plates at the bottom of the boiler till they were as thin as a sheet of paper, yet the jury had returned a verdict of accidental death. However, as the report pointed out, competent inspection would have prevented the explosion, and the owners neglected this simple precaution which cost three men their lives. Another explosion at Cork was caused by an inoperative safety valve, yet the Coroner stated that there was no negligence on the part of any person. However as the report stated, safety valves are not inoperative without someone being negligent, and it is the duty of those in charge to see that such valves are free.

On the basis of decisions such these, Mr Fletcher concluded that “The verdict by a coroner’s jury is so constantly one of Accidental death, even though the boiler is worn out and unfit for use, that the coroner’s court becomes to the reckless boiler owner very much what the debtor’s sanctuary in the old days was to the spendthrift”.

John O’Brien
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
Journal of the Society of Arts, No.1,434, Vol.XXVIII, May 14, 1880, pages 588-589 [IOR/L/E/6/19, File 1161]

A description of the Glasgow disaster can be found on Trove

 

22 September 2016

Employing children in dangerous trades

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When we think of children working in dangerous occupations in the 19th century, perhaps the first things that come to mind are chimney sweeps and mill workers.  I was surprised to learn that young children were employed to make priming for guns. This involved handling percussion powder, a highly inflammable preparation of potash, sulphur and charcoal.

 

  Percussion gun primer

Recipe for percussion powder Philosophical Magazine and Journal vol. LVI (London, 1820) Noc

A terrible accident occurred in London on 12 November 1822.  Collinson Hall, a gunmaker in Upper Marylebone Street, arrived home about six o’clock in the evening  to find a crowd outside his front door.  He was told that there had been an explosion.

Alexander Bettie, aged 12, and his brother John, 10, had worked for the gunmaker for nearly two years.  Their job was to prepare black cakes for priming percussion guns and to fill copper caps with priming composition.  Hall had gone out for the day leaving the boys with instructions to make up about five or six ounces of the priming composition.

At teatime, Hall’s son Collinson left the workshop and went downstairs.  As he was returning about twenty minutes later, there was a fierce explosion in the workshop.  The stone fireplace was torn down; the doors were off their hinges; the ceiling of the room underneath fell; and windows on the staircase were blown out.  Collinson Hall junior found the brothers in the workshop, alive but burned and terribly injured.

Alexander and John both died shortly after being taken to nearby Middlesex Hospital. An inquest was held at the hospital. The Coroner’s jury were taken to the ‘dead room’ to see the boys’ maimed bodies laid together in one coffin, ‘a truly shocking sight’. 

Both Hall and his son were questioned.  Collinson Hall senior said that the workshop was never locked, but the boys were not generally allowed to be in there unless the adult workmen were present.  The boys’ work was expected to be finished and taken from them before candlelight was needed.  He believed it was common practice in the gun making trade to employ children on such work – his own daughter aged 15 and another 16-year-old girl also worked for him - ‘He, however, felt confident that there must have been less caution used on this occasion in his absence than if he had himself been at home’.  The cause of the accident could only be guessed at – perhaps the boys took the cakes they had made that day out of the drawer, and perhaps a spark from a candle had ignited them.

  Percussion gun

Percussion gun-lock’ in Transactions of the Society instituted in London for the encouragement of arts, manufactures and commerce vol. XXXVI (London, 1819) Noc

 

A verdict of accidental death was returned.  The coroner explained that the jury could only punish the gunmaker by sending him for trial for murder or manslaughter. However that would imply that the powder had been deliberately placed in the children’s way and there was no ground to presume this.

Both the coroner and jury were disturbed by the case.  The coroner said he hoped that the accident would act as a warning: parents should not allow their children to be employed in such work, and employers should not take on children so young that they were incapable of judging the danger to which they were exposed.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading:
British Newspaper ArchiveMorning Chronicle 14 November 1822, Evening Mail 15 November 1822, The Examiner 17 November 1822.
‘Percussion gun-lock’ in Transactions of the Society instituted in London for the encouragement of arts, manufactures and commerce vol. XXXVI (London, 1819)
‘Description of the percussion gun-lock invented by Mr Collinson Hall’ in Philosophical Magazine and Journal vol. LVI (London, 1820)

 

02 September 2016

‘A most fearefull and dreadfull fire’

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The directors of the East India Company did not hold their regular meetings at the start of September 1666.  They were caught up in the Great Fire which started its devastating sweep through the City of London on the morning of 2 September.

        
Fire of London maps_k_top_21_65_b
View of the Fire of London Maps K.Top.21.65.b Images Online


East India House in Leadenhall Street stood about 400 metres from the seat of the fire in Pudding Lane.  Books, papers, goods, and treasure were hurriedly removed for safety to outlying Stepney.   The fire damaged the western front of Leadenhall Market but was stopped just short of East India House - firefighters were spurred on by a City official tossing them a hatful of gold coins. 

‘It pleased God that, on the 2d of this moneth, being Sunday, in the morning, a most fearefull and dreadfull fire brake forth, which hath consumed the greatest part of the citty of London, even from Tower Dock to Temple Barr, and almost all within the walls, except part of Marke Lane, Bishopsgate Streete, Leadenhall Streete, part of Broad Streete, and some by the Wall toward Mooregate and Criplegate and part by Christchurch.  The sight whereof was exceeding afrightening and astonishing. In this sad calamity God was pleased to bee very favourable to the Companies interest, having preserved most of our goods, excepting some saltpeeter and our pepper at the Exchange sellar.
(East India Company directors’ letter to Surat 14 September 1666)

This map shows just how close the flames came to East India House.

  Fire of London Noorthouck, John. A new history of London
 
Section of map showing area of fire damage from John Noorthouck, A new history of London, including Westminster and Southwark.(1773)

Eighteenth Century Collections Online 


On 10 September a smaller than usual number of Company directors met at East India House.  Those who had overseen the removal of the property were thanked ‘for their indefatigable paines, and sympathie of the Companies concern’.  Rewards were given for services ‘in the late time of extremitie, when a total ruine was feared by the violence of the flames’. 

Orders were given to bring everything back to the City.  Buyers who had suffered financial losses in the fire were given extra time to settle their accounts.  Tradesmen whose premises had been burnt asked the Company to ‘break’ the front of East India House to provide shops. The Company refused - this would be ‘very inconvenient and unfit’.

When news of the fire reached India, the Dutch in Cochin celebrated and burnt an effigy of King Charles II.  The Company wrote to Madras in December 1666 warning them that the Dutch might exaggerate the effects of the fire. A plan was sent showing exactly what had been destroyed and what remained.

There is a story that victims of the fire were shipped out to St Helena in 1667 by the East India Company to start a new life. A set of stamps was issued by St Helena in 1967 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of their arrival.

 St Helena stamps 1967 Great Fire of London

St Helena stamps 1967 - Tercentenary of the arrival of settlers after the Fire of London - author's collection


The story has been challenged and said to be a myth.  However the Company did write to St Helena on 28 December 1666 telling them that they were sending out people for the island on the ship Charles.  As well as Henry Gargen who was appointed to the Council, there were several other persons whose names and salaries were enclosed with the letter.  Unfortunately this list does not appear to have survived in the Company records held in London or St Helena , so the identities and place of origin of the settlers are unknown.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

 
Further reading:
IOR/B/28 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 1650-1669.
IOR/E/3/87 East India Company letter book 1666-1672.
Alexander Hugo Schulenburg, 'Myths of Settlement: St Helena and the Great Fire of London', Wirebird: The Journal of the Friends of St Helena, No.19, pp.5-8 (1999)

 

26 May 2016

Wanted: 100 Hogshead of Sugar

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Today is the 50th anniversary of Guyana’s independence, a country on the northern coast of South America. Formally known as British Guiana, it had a rich and diverse history. Journalist Lainy Malkani takes a look back at some archive newspapers with a remarkable link to one of the most expensive stamps in the world.

 

Royal Gazette 4 Mar 1856

‘Wanted: 100 Hogshead of Sugar.’  Royal Gazette 4 March 1856 Noc


Judging by the variety of notices and adverts posted in the Royal Gazette in 1856, Georgetown, must have been a bustling and at times chaotic city. The proprietors of the printing shop, Messrs. William Dallas, Esq, who was one of a growing number of successful mixed-race businessmen, and Joseph Baum from Pennsylvania, were in the thick of it.

 The search for ‘100 Hogshead of Sugar’, is just one of thousands of ‘Wanted’ ads placed in the newspaper, and leafing through just one day in the life of the city feels like time travel at its best. On Tuesday 4 March 1856, Rose and Duff wanted to purchase ‘100 Puncheons of Rum’ while a shipment from London of 600 tonnes of ‘shingle ballast, gravel and sand’ was available for any discerning developer to buy if they had cash at the ready. On other days, an advert announcing the arrival of ships from Calcutta, laden with bags of rice and mustard oil for Indian indentured labourers indicates the country’s increasingly diverse population after emancipation in 1834.

 

Royal Gazette 3 Jan 1856

‘IRVING BROTHERS OFFER FOR SALE’  Royal Gazette  3 Jan 1856 Noc

 

The Royal Gazette, later known as the Official Gazette was regarded as the voice of the colonial administration and Government announcements were frequently posted. Disturbances in the city led to William Walker, the Government Secretary to decree that a reward of $50 dollars for information that led to a conviction of the troublemakers, would be withdrawn and replaced with a $250 reward - perhaps it was a sign of the fragility of peace in the city.

The printing office was located at No23 High Street and Church-Street in the upmarket district of Cumingsburg and it printed more than just newspapers. In 1843, it published a ‘Local Guide of British Guiana,’ a compilation of all the current laws as well as an historical sketch of the city. 

  Georgetown 1

From Local Guide to British Guiana (Georgetown: Baum & Dallas, 1843) Noc


But perhaps their greatest claim to fame was not as printers of newspapers or books, but of stamps, and one in particular, which is now the most expensive and rarest in the world.

The story begins with a delay in the shipment of postage stamps dispatched from London to British Guiana. By 1856, supplies were running low and so the local postmaster ordered Baum and Dallas to print a batch of one-cent stamps as postage for newspapers and a four-cent stamp for letters. The last remaining One-Cent Magenta recently sold at Sotheby’s for $9.5 million and the Four-Cent Magenta and Four-Cent Blue form part of an unrivalled collection of rare stamps donated by the wealthy Victorian businessman Thomas Tapling, held here at the British Library.

 

  British guiana677
British Guiana 4-Cent Magenta Noc

 

All in all, 1856 was a pretty good year for Baum and Dallas. The newspaper was now being printed three days a week instead of two, a sure sign that business was doing well. They had also, unwittingly secured a place in history as printers of the most valuable stamp in the world.

Lainy Malkani
Writer, broadcaster and founder of the Social History Hub