90 Years Ago in Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
by Mike Ferguson
Originally published in the January 2009 issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. Unfortunately, the T&CTJ website archives were recently taken down so this article can no longer be found online.
In December of 1918, The Tea & Coffee Trade Journal – “Representing the Tea, Coffee, Spice, and Fine Grocery Trades” — sold for 25 cents a copy. A one-year subscription to William H. Ukers’ magazine, which billed itself as “The Blue Book of the Trade” would run you two dollars.
The December 1918 issue of The Tea & Coffee Trade Journal (T&CTJ) was dominated by news and analysis regarding how the end of the war would affect the coffee industry in the United States. The armistice with Germany was only a few weeks old, but the coffee industry was already actively lobbying the government for relief from restrictions placed on trade during the war. One article began, “With the coming of peace, the coffee trade finds itself in an alarming position, with scant supplies and rising costs…unless the government regulations are withdrawn chaos will result.”
Coffee trading associations in New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans began sending urgent appeals via telegram to the “Food Administrations” on the very day the armistice was signed. Less than a week later, the government agreed to allow The New York Coffee and Sugar Exchange to re-open, but the industry continued to protest because restrictions remained on importing and profit taking. Industry leaders complained that “only sixty days’ visible supply of coffee remains in this country.” Lobbyist were dispatched to Washington. Some rules were relaxed, but not enough to convince the industry that reopening futures trading was a good idea. On December 9th, at a meeting of The New York Coffee and Sugar Exchange, a vote on whether or not the Exchange should open for trading under current conditions tied, 39 to 39.
Over the course of the war, the advertising and editorial tone of the T&CTJ had been decidedly patriotic, with frequent stories on how coffee was being supplied to the troops. An article in the September 1918 issue detailed the building of roasting plants by the Army, stating:
“No more will they be dosed with ‘dishwater’ coffee made from stale coffee beans that were probably roasted from 30 to 90 days before brewing. Soon they will be getting coffee that has been roasted within twenty-four hours of the time of issue.”
An advertisement for the Canco tin company (in the process of becoming American Can) contained only their logo and two quotes regarding the war, one from President Wilson, “Our Task: To Win this War.” In the December issue, the presidential quote was replaced by their tag line, “The Sign of a Better Can.”
While the December issue still contained some stories and advertising on war themes (The Union Bag & Paper Corporation declared in its ad, “The war is still on…exigencies still require, among other things, package-economy”), the general message was back to business.
There are a few familiar names among the advertisers. The six-barrel sample roaster pictured in an ad from Jabez Burns & Sons is probably still operating somewhere. Although Arbuckle’s was well into its declining years as “the coffee that won the west,” it did enjoy a second wind with its Yuban brand, which is featured in a simple half-page ad with hand-drawn illustrations.
The closing pages of the December 1918 T&CTJ are devoted to a special section on the Eighth Annual Convention of The National Coffee Roasters’ Association, precursor to the National Coffee Association. The meeting was held in Cleveland and the attendee count was 151, including 85 members, 44 non-member roasters, and 22 “green coffee men.” This was significant because, as the article states, “For the first time in the history of the trade the roasted and coffee interests of the United States met in a joint meeting.”
Members agreed to several house-keeping items on their agenda, including the doubling of their dues in order to hire a professional staff person and establish a permanent headquarters. Resolutions were passed and committees were formed, apparently with some efficiency, by the association’s outgoing president, B. S. Casanas of New Orleans. T&CTJ reported that due to Casanas “rapid fire methods as a presiding officer, the meeting proceeded with snap and dash.”
Due to the crisis in the coffee industry at the time, T&CTJ noted that “there was not as much hilarity as at previous meetings; but after all, it should be for profit, and not for pleasure, that men go to these gatherings.” The magazine did refer to one exception, however, in writing about Robert Burns of Jabez Burns, “Robert had the time of his life, as usual. There was a dearth of ladies at the banquet, but Robert managed to find someone to dance with and he was as full of pep as the youngest of them.”