The Business Slump of 1850

“ September 1850 a commercial panic was in full blast” wrote Bancroft, “Goods became unsalable.” (History of California, The Works of HH Bancroft, Vol. VII, p.106). While the earliest merchants importing goods from South America made great profits, so much merchandise continued to pour into San Francisco that prices became depressed. In addition, whenever news of gold strikes arrived, a massive number of residents took off for the gold fields, further driving down prices.

The following month,  De Boom, Vigeaux, Grisar and Co. wrote back to the home office describing the terrible business conditions and complaining about the miserable quality of goods sent from Antwerp. Today we might call it dumping inferior products into a third-world country. I imagine that what Mr. Fondary felt like writing was “Dear Idiots, Business is terrible and it’s all your fault! Not even drunken gold miners will buy the dented cans, bad wine and other lousy merchandise you sent from Antwerp. I’ve had to discount everything but the cognac. I could be making huge profits for the firm (and come home where there are marriageable women and wonderful cafés) if you would only send me better quality goods.” Instead, well, read for yourself a translation, followed by PDF files of the original in Belgian-style French.

San Francisco, 14 October, 1850

Dear Sirs,  R. DeBoom & Van Langenhove, Antwerp

In response to your letter of last October 15th, we acknowledge the instructions that you give us concerning the Aurora’s cargo which we hope will arrive in good condition.

The business here has been very slow for some time. The rainy season and an oversupply of goods have forced us to lower the price on almost all of the articles – except the cognac which is still getting $1.80 a bottle – but the other liquors no longer fetch their original prices. The cases of wine have fallen to $3.45 from last year’s $4.50. Barrels of wine are now selling for $60 instead of $70.

We are slowly selling off the articles from the Princess Charlotte. The bad condition and poor quality of her cargo have hindered us from exploiting the spell of fifteen days of good weather in which we had the hope to sell it. The French porcelain and ceramics, which are so badly made, will yield barely $4510; while the medications are completely unsaleable. The absinthe was sold for $10.50 a dozen. Never send liquor in quantities more than a dozen.

Please pay attention to the shape of the bottle and the beauty of the label. Even an inferior product – but carefully handled and attractively packaged  – always offers more profit. The herrings are products that should have three or four years of shelf life, but the labels on the boxes had been removed. We will take the first opportunity to sell them, but it will be at a loss.

Currently the article that has fallen the most is the Champagne. There has been no demand for the past 2 months, one cannot obtain even an offer. We hope that the price will rise again, but it will be impossible for us to recoup its value at this time.

The price of coal is also very low, one can’t even get $10. We are considering leaving it on board the Princess which will leave in a few days. We could perhaps get an offer for what’s left of the coal, as well as the bricks, but after we calculate the cost of unloading and reducing the price for a quick sale, we think that it would be better to leave them on board.

We have received by the Charles V a shipment of gin. We have an offer and we think we can give you our forecast for the terms of sale by the next steamer. The ship Princess Charlotte is not in fit condition for the voyage to India, so she is returning to Valparaiso.

Your devoted servant for Messieurs de Boom Vigneaux Grisar and Company,

C Fondary

23_Business_Letter_1850_page1           24_Business_Letter_1850_page2

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Funds transfer from San Francisco to Antwerp, 1863

The other letter from the firm which Emma preserved authorizes the transfer of 525 francs to Antwerp. The US Consul, AW Crawford, has affixed his signature and stamp certifying that Daniel Van Santen and Jean F. Brants are the people who they say they are.

26_Funds_Transfer_1863_a                   27_Funds_Transfer_1863_b

The Court of the Port of Antwerp (Anvers)

The decisions of the Antwerp Port Court  published in 1857 by Jos. Conard reference two cases involving De Boom and Marsily firms:

Catteaux vs. DeBoom et Van Langenhove  Jurisprudence du port d’Anvers, p. 307    Grisar et Marsily vs. John Beeson  Jurisprudence du port d’Anvers, p. 275

Christian Emile Grisar

Alain Marsily supplied this notice in 2014 from a German-language online site:

Born 27 April 1821 in Antwerpen. Christian? Died 24 May 1882 in San Francisco. Funeral celebration in “Masonic Temple.” 1848 emigrated to Chile, co-owner of “De Boom, Grisar and Vigneau” in Valparaiso, in 1849 followed the rogue(? lit. ‘winding’) business partner De Boom to San Francisco, where business was conducted. In 1866 became eligible to vote in the 2nd district of San Francisco. In 1867 wood merchant (The wool firm was at 1517 Powell Street). On 9 February 1867 Belgian Consul in San Francisco. In 1863 published four poems and 1868 a small collection of poetry, “The Bells, Small Poems” at Eduard Bosqui & Cie. In 1869 dedicated a poem to Sister Julieete, writien in Wiesbaden (Hessen) [Germany]. 1868 litigation in the supior court with Irwin McDowell. 1868 bought/sold real estate property in San Francisco with NN NN. (Left behind a widow, died 1882.)