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unblushingly, and as a matter of business. We have our selves read in an agent's order-book, the details of an order, specifying the actual lengths of which the articles were to be cut, and the much greater lengths to be marked on the labels. And we have been told by a manufacturer who was required to make up tapes into lengths of fifteen yards, and label them as “warranted 18 yards,” that when he did not label them falsely, his goods were sent back to him; and that the greatest concession he could obtain, was to be allowed to send them without labels.
It is not to be supposed that in their dealings with manufacturers, these wholesale-houses adopt a code of morals differing much from that which regulates their dealings with retailers. The facts prove it to be much th
A buyer for instance (who exclusively conducts the purchases of a wholesale-house from manufacturers) will not unfrequently take from a first-class maker a small supply of some new fabric, on the pattern of which much time and money have been spent; and this new-pattern fabric he will put into the hands of another maker, to have copied in large quantities. Some buyers, again, give their orders verbally, that they may have the opportunity of afterwards repudiating them if they wish; and in a case
1 narrated to us, where a manufacturer who had been thus deluded, wished on a subsequent occasion to guarantee himself by obtaining the buyer's signature to his order, he. was refused it.
For other unjust acts of wholesale-houses, the heads of these establishments are, we presume, responsible. Small manufacturers working with insufficient capital, and in times of depression not having the wherewith to meet their engagements, are often obliged to become dependants on the wholesale-houses with which they deal; and are then cruelly taken advantage of. One who has thus
KNAVERIES OF WHOLESALE HOUSES.
committed himself, has either to sell his accumulated stock at a great sacrifice—thirty to forty per cent. below its value—or else to mortgage it; and when the wholesalehouse becomes the mortgagee, the manufacturer has little chance of escape. He is obliged to work at the wholesaler's terms; and ruin almost certainly follows. This is especially the case in the silk-hoisery business. As was said to us by one of the larger silk-hosiers, who had watched the destruction of many of his smaller brethren
"They may be spared for a while as a cat spares a mouse; but they are sure to be eaten up in the end.” And we can the more readily credit this statement, from having found that a like policy is pursued by some provincial curriers in their dealings with small shoe-makers; and also by hop-merchants and maltsters in their dealings with small publicans. We read that in Hindostan, the ryots, when crops fall short, borrow from the Jews to buy seed; and once in their clutches are doomed. It seems that our commercial world can furnish parallels.
Of another class of wholesale-traders—those who supply grocers with foreign and colonial produce—we may say that though, in consequence of the nature of their business, their mal-practices are less numerous and multiform, as well as less glaring, they are of much the same stamp as the foregoing. Unless it is to be supposed that sugar and spices are moral antiseptics as well as physical ones, it must be expected that wholesale dealers in them will transgress much as other wholesale dealers do, in those directions where the facilities are greatest. And the truth is, that both in the qualities and quantities of the articles they sell, they take advantage of the retailers. The descriptions they give of their commodities are habitually misrepresentations. Samples sent round to their customers are characterized as first-rate when they are really second-rate. The travellers are expected to en
dorse these untrue statements. And unless the grocer has adequate keenness and extensive knowledge, he is more or less deceived. In some cases, indeed, no skill will save him. There are frauds that have grown up little by little into customs of the trade, which the retailer must submit to. In the purchase of sugar, ample, he is imposed on in respect alike of the goodness and the weight.
The history of the dishonesty is this: Originally the tare allowed by the merchant on each hogshead, was 14 per cent. of the gross weight. The actual weight of the wood of which the hogshead was made, was at that time about 12 per cent. of the gross weight. And thus the trade allowance left a profit of 2 per cent. to the buyer. Gradually, however, the hogshead has grown thicker and heavier; until now, instead of amounting to 12 per cent. of the gross weight, it amounts to 17 per cent. And as the allowance of 14 per cent. still continues, the result is that the retail grocer loses 3 per cent. : to the extent of 3 per cent. he buys wood in the place of sugar. In the quality of the sugar, he is deluded by the practice of giving him a sample only from the best part of the hogshead. During its voyage from Jamaica or elsewhere, the contents of a hogshead undergo a certain slow draining. The molasses, of which more or less is always present, filters from the uppermost part of the mass of sugar to the lowermost part; and this lowermost part, technically known as the “ foot,” is of darker colour and smaller value. The quantity of it contained in a hogshead, varies greatly; and the retailer, receiving a false sample, has to guess what the quantity of "foot” may be; and to his cost often underestimates it. As will be seen from the following letter, copied from the Public Ledger for the 20th Oct., 1858, these grievances, more severe even than we have repre- . sented them, are now exciting an agitation:
FRAUDS OF WHOLESALE GROCERS.
“ To the Retail Grocers of the United Kingdom.
“Gentlemen,-The time has arrived for the trade at once to make a move for the revision of tares on all raw sugars. Facts prove the evil of the present system to be greatly on the increase. We submit a case as under, and only one out of twenty. On the 30th August, 1858, we bought 3 hogsheads of Barbados, mark TG
K Invoice Tares.
Re Tares. No. cwt. qrs. lb. lb. No. cwt. qrs. Ib. 1 1 2 14 6 drift. 1. 1 3 27 7 1 2 7
7 1 3 20 3 1 2 21
3 1 3 27
“We make a claim for £2 18. 3d. ; we are told by the wholesale grocer there is no redress.
“There is another evil which the retail grocer has to contend with, that is, the mode of sampling raw sugar: the foots are excluded from the merchants' samples. Facts will prove that in thousands of hogsheads of Barbados this season there is an average of 5 cwt. of foots in each; we have turned out some with 10 cwt., which are at least 58. per cwt. less value than sample, and in these cases we are told again there is no redress.
“These two causes are bringing hundreds of hard-working men to ruin, and will bring hundreds more unless the trade take it up, and we implore them to unite in obtaining so important a revision. “We are, Gentlemen, your obedient servants,
“ WALKER and STAINES.* “ Birmingham, October 19, 1858."
A more subtle method of imposition remains to be added. It is the practice of sugar-refiners to put moist, crushed sugar into dried casks. During the time that elapses before one of these casks is opened by the retailer,
* The abuses described in this letter have now, we believe, been abolished.
the desiccated wood has taken up the excess of water from the sugar; which is so brought again into good condition. When the retailer, however, finding that the cask weighs much more than was allowed as tare by the wholesale dealer, complains to him of this excess, the reply is— “Send it up to us, and we will dry it and weigh it, as is the custom of the trade.”
Without further detailing these mal-practices, of which the above examples are perhaps the worst, we will advert only to one other point in the transactions of these large houses—the drawing-up of trade-circulars. It is the practice of many
wholesalers to send round to their customers, periodic accounts of the past transactions, present condition, and prospects of the markets. Serving as checks on each other, as they do, these documents are prevented from swerving very widely from the truth. But it is scarcely to be expected that they should be quite honest. Those who issue them, being in most cases interested in the prices of the commodities referred to in their circulars, are swayed by their interests in the representations they make respecting the probabilities of the future. Far-seeing retailers are on their guard against this. A large provincial grocer, who thoroughly understands his business, said to us—“ As a rule, I throw trade-circulars on the fire.” . And that this estimate of their trustworthiness is not unwarranted, we gather from the expressions of those engaged in other businesses. From two leather-dealers, one in the country and one in London, we have heard the same complaint against the circulars published by houses in their trade, that they are misleading. Not that they state untruths; but that they produce false impressions by leaving out facts which they should have stated.
In illustrating the morality of manufacturers, we shall confine ourselves to one class—those who work in, silk.