Archive for the ‘History of Wine’ Category

Anatomy of a Madeira Letter – Back Stamp

October 16, 2020 Leave a comment

The British Post office was divided into a number of branches with the Foreign Office separate from the Inland Office. The Foreign Office handled post to and from overseas destinations including a number of the letters sent to Messrs Newton, Gordon that I have in my collection.. Beginning in 1797, the Foreign Office office hand stamped all outward posts.[1]

Between 1806-1814, the Foreign Office used a red stamp with “Foreign” and the year within two concentric circles. There is a code number in the middle. The first image is comprised of four marks for the years 1808-1811.

Beginning in 1815, the Foreign Office switched to a new black stamp. Within a circle appear “F” and the last two digits of the year split by the perpendicular code number. The second image is comprised of stamps from 1817, 1819, and 1820, and 1821.

The last image includes three back stamps from 1817 which I have arranged in ascending order of the numerical code. As you can see, the May letter has a higher value than the September letters. Perhaps the code is simply a 3-digit sequence number which has rolled over back to zero at least once between May and September. Further, there were 67 letters stamped between the two September letters. If anyone has an understanding of this code please let me know.

  • #167 – Dated 10 September 1817
  • #235 – Dated 10 September 1817
  • #252 – Dated 13 May 1817

[1] “The Jay Catalogue: Revisions Continued – FOREIGN OFFICE”, London Postal History Group, Number 158, August 2004. URL:

Anatomy of a Madeira Letter – Receipt Docketing

October 12, 2020 2 comments
A related pair of letters received by Messrs Newton Gordon Murdoch & Scott, Madeira on 30 May 1817. Author’s collection.

On the back of an individual Madeira letter you will find its history docketed. This information includes who sent the letter and from where, when it was written, when it was received, and when it was answered.

The first image featured in this post illustrates the receipt docketing of two letters of introduction sent to Messrs Newton Gordon Murdoch & Scott of Madeira. The letters concern two men each making the journey from London to Calcutta via Madeira. Written one day apart, the letters were received at Madeira on 30 May 1817. They were promptly answered the following day, perhaps because the gentleman themselves were on the very same ship that the letters were sent on.

A letter received by Messrs Newton Gordon Murdoch & Scott, Madeira on 29 Nov 1809. Author’s collection.

Not all letters were answered in a timely manner. One such letter sent by packet, took only 11 days to travel from London to Madeira. However, it took nearly four months to be answered! The letter concerns an order for 10 pipes of Madeira to be sent first to the Brazils before making their way back to London. It is possible the reply was not written until the pipes had made their journey back from Brazil hence the long delay.

A letter received by Messrs Newton Gordon Murdoch & Scott, Madeira on 22 Feb 1791. Author’s collection.

The final cover featured in this post, indicates that two letters bearing different dates from Francis Newton were received. Though written on one sheet, Francis Newton first provides an extract from his previously sent letter dated 30 November 1790, which is followed by his current letter dated 6 December 1790. The extract of the previous letter is marked “copy” which is perhaps why it is docketed with “Duplicates”. The letters were received on 22 February 1791 and marked “ans’d formerly”. It could be that the first letter was received and answered before this latest copy arrived.

Anatomy of a Madeira Letter – Rates

The three letters featured in this post, dated 1808, 1811, and 1817, highlight the different rates charged for sending letters from London to Madeira using the British Post Office. These letters were carried by postal packet thus in addition to the recipient’s address and endorsement, they bear the rates charged for delivery.

The port city of Falmouth, located in the south-west corner of England, was home to the Post Office’s Packet Service for nearly two centuries.[1] In sending a letter from London to Madeira, the rate was calculated by adding up the inland cost of sending the letter from London to Falmouth. and the Falmouth packet rate to Madeira. The letters dated 1808 and 1811 were rated based on the same scale set forth in the Postage Act of 1805[1].

Falmouth is located some 270 miles from London. In 1805, the inland rates for England charged 11d. for a 200-300 mile journey. The Falmouth packet rate for Madeira was 1s. 7d. The total rate then is 11d. + 1s. 7d. – 1d. = 2s. 5d which is marked in red in the upper right-hand corner of the cover. The letter is also marked “40” for the 40 Centimos collection fee in Madeira. I do not have any further information about this fee.

The second letter was rated 4s. 10d. or twice that of the previous letter. This was the charge for a double letter. The reason for which is found in the correspondence itself, where we learn that “Under this cover you will receive Copies of my last letter…”.

The Postage Act of 1812, increased the inland rate for London to Falmouth by 1d. to 12d or 1s. and the packet rate to Madeira was increased by 1d. to 1s. 8d.[2] The total rate then is 1s. + 1s. 8d. – 1d. = 2s. 7d.

[1] Hemmeon, J. C. “The History of the British Post Office”, 1912. URL:

[2] “Postage Act 1805, (45 Geo 3 c.11, 12th March 1805)”. The Great Britain Philatelic Society. URL:

[3] “Postage Act 1812,(52 Geo 3 c.88, 9th July 1812)”. The Great Britain Philatelic Society. URL:

Anatomy of a Madeira Letter – Recipient’s Address

Whether from England or America, an old letter addressed to a Madeira house is shockingly simple. The name of the firm followed by “Madeira” are all that were required for an address to enable the letter to reach its destination during the 18th and 19th centuries. Founded in 1745 by Francis Newton, the firm of Cossart, Gordon & Co. has changed names some dozen times since [1] and the letters in my possession illustrate several of these changes through the recipient’s address:

  • Messrs Newton Gordon & Co (1787)
  • Messrs Newton Gordon & Johnston (1790)
  • Messrs Newton Gordon Murdoch & Scott (1808)
  • Messrs Newton, Gordon, Cossart & Co (1840)

A number of my letters are endorsed with additional information. To understand why we must turn to postal history.[2] The British Post Office was first organized by act in the mid 17th century which gave it the authority to send all letters and packets.[3] There were exceptions which allowed others to carry mail as well. Letters regarding personal affairs could be carried by a friend and merchant correspondence could be carried by other ships.

Three such examples appear in the image below. The top-most cover is endorsed “pr. Packet” which meant it traveled by a regular postal packet. If you look closely you can see it was rated “2/5” meaning a rate of 2 Shillings and 5 Pence was charged along with “40” for the 40 Centimos collect fee in Madeira. The middle letter endorsed “THe Alexander CapT Reid” was carried by private ship. Captain Reid no doubt carried the letter because a John Welch of London was directing Messrs. Newton Gordon to ship five pipes of Madeira onboard Captain Reid’s ship Alexander. The final cover is endorsed “by favour of Mr Wm Hope” and from the contents we learn that the banking firm of Marsh, Stracey, & Co. of London requested that Messrs Newton Gordon advance Mr. William Hope up to 600 Pounds.

[1] “Madeira, The Island Vineyard” by Noel Cossart & Mannie Berk, 2010.

[2] Many interesting papers may be found at the Great Britain Philatelic Society. URL:

[3] “June 1657: An Act for setling the Postage of England, Scotland and Ireland.” British History Online. URL:

“We were in time favored with your letter”: Anatomy of a Madeira letter

Assorted Madeira letters from the author’s collection.

I have enjoyed reading many 18th and 19th century letters regarding Madeira wine both online and in person. The survival of these letters is amazing. There is a thrill I feel whenever I have viewed them at libraries or from the collection of Mannie Berk (The Rare Wine Co.). The descriptions found within, of various wines, vintages, and even oak staves, have appeared in many posts on this blog. I have, however, never addressed the physical letters themselves.

Over the last few months I acquired a small collection of letters addressed to the firm of Cossart, Gordon and Company at Madeira dating from 1763 – 1840. That these letters are even available for purchase stems back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when many were sold off for philatelic value. It is these letters that I have largely purchased. Over the next few posts I will present pictures from my collection to illustrate the anatomy of a Madeira letter.

Cruikshank’s “Oxford Transports” from 1824

Robert Cruikshank, “OXFORD TRANSPORTS, or Albanians doing Penance for Past Offences”, March 1, 1824. Author’s collection.

Robert Cruikshank (1789 – 1856) is the brother of the well-know satirist, George Cruikshank. His satire “Oxford Transports” may very well depict the profusion of wine I hope to share with my friends at the end of the pandemic.

My last post was many months ago at the end of January. Since then the new nature of work due to the pandemic has placed all-consuming demands on my time. I still love curious old bottles of wine and even older wine history which I will endeavor to begin posting about, once again, this fall.


“The [illustrated] effects of medicine and wine-drinking compared.”

October 18, 2019 Leave a comment

I came across this drawing while perusing the Wellcome Collection to stock an anatomy display at my house for our Halloween party.  On the left, is a thin, gaunt man suffering from the blue devils despite his three bottles of physic.  On the right is a jolly, robust man, holding up a glass of wine, surrounded by wine bottles.  As there are two wine glasses and six bottles of wine, I suspect the thin, gaunt man switched from wine to physic for the worse!

“The effects of medicine and wine-drinking compared.” [1]

Two three bottle men. Wine and physic. What I was. What I am. A hint to jolly dogs.

[1] The effects of medicine and wine-drinking compared. Ink drawing, 18–.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY. URL:

Frightening 16th c. Wine-related Images for Friday the 13th & a Full Moon!

September 13, 2019 Leave a comment

“Devil and Man” from Hans von Leonrod. Hymelwag. 1517. [1]

As it is Friday the 13th and a full-moon, I present two frightening wine-related images.  In keeping with yesterday’s post about the popularity of drinking in 15th century Germany, I present two images by Hans Schaufelein found in Hans von Leonrod Hymelwag (1517).  The popularity of intoxication in Germany continued into the 16th and 17th century. As a result, a temperance movement developed, as did books complete with devil-related drinking images.

In the title image of this post, a knight is presented a demijohn of wine by a diablocal creature.  This is the first known image of the “boozing devil” or Saufteufel.  In these books, the vice of drunkenness opened the gates to other vices.  In the second image, we see the same knight with his cup and demijohn of wine riding a cart into the mouth of hell.  He seems oblivious to his fate which is frightening indeed.

“Wagon to Hell” from Hans von Leonrod. Hymelwag. 1517. [1]

[1] von Leonrod, Hans. Hymelwag auff dem, wer wol lebt un wol stirbt fert in das reich der himel. 1517. URL:

Hans Folz, Prints In Praise of Distilled Wine from the 1490s

September 12, 2019 Leave a comment

Folz, Hans. Wem der geprennt wein schad oder nucz sei. ca. 1491. [1]

I have periodically looked at Hans Folz’s colorful image Wem der geprennt wein schad oder nucz sei (ca. 1491) for several years now.  I first came across it when I worked on my 16th Century German Wine Books posts.  In this post I present a bit of context.

Hans Folz (1435-1513) was a German barber surgeon, playwright, and printer amongst other occupations.  He is considered a major figure but the breadth of his work was largely ignored in English research until Caroline Huey’s Hans Folz and Print Culture in Late Medieval Germany: The Creation of Popular Discourse (2012).  Folz was based in Nuremberg where he self-published a large number of works including the poem Wem der geprennt wein schad oder nucz sei, vnd wie er gerecht oder felschlich gemacht sei (ca. 1491).  The drinking of wine and beer was very common in the 15th century Germany but towards the end, distilled wine or brandy increased in popularity.  Folz’s poem is focused on this widely popular drink which he praises as a remedy against sadness and hangovers but also warns against immoderate use. [4]  Folz was no doubt an observer of drinking behavior in his city.  In 1496, shortly after he published these works, the Nuremberg city council banned the drinking of distilled wine in the streets and the sale on Sundays and holidays.

Folz, Hans. Wem der geprennt wein schad oder nucz sei. ca. 1491. [2]

Folz’s wine incunabula exists in at least three different forms.  The first two, dated ca. 1491, are in the form of a book and a broadsheet.  The book features a hand colored woodblock print with hand-copied text.[1]  The broadsheet features the same print with printed text.[2]  A few details contain the single color red such as lips, a flask of distilled wine, and some letters.  The two prints are formed from the same wood block given the wear patterns.  For example, two dots appear in the title text between “schad oder” and in the top of the right vertical border are additional signs of wear.  A third form contains an entirely different wood block print.  Though the image is completely different, the key features are the same.

Folz, Hans. Wem der geprant wein nutz sey oder schad. 1493. [3]

In both image types, a merchant appears behind his table which is partially covered with a cloth.  On it are arrayed flasks of distilled wine, a knife, perhaps wooden rulers, maybe some corks or coins, and shallow cups for drinking.  It is certainly a mysterious assortment of items.  The first image type, which takes place outside on the grass, features a line of three men waiting for a drink.  The second image, presumably inside as there is a stone wall and tiled floor, features only one man actively taking a drink.  The different images in book form feature green glass flasks which do not reveal their contents.  The broadsheet, with it judicious use of color, implies the glass is clear as there is red fluid in one flask.

The culture of drinking continued to develop in Germany during the 16th century.  In tomorrow’s post I will present a couple of scary wine-related images.

[0] Huey, Caroline. “Hans Folz and Print Culture in Late Medieval Germany: The Creation of Popular Discourse”. Routledge. 2012.

[1] Folz, Hans. Wem der geprennt wein schad oder nucz sei, vnd wie er gerecht oder felschlich gemacht sei. c. 1491. München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek — Cgm 407#S.298. URL:

[2] Folz, Hans: Wem der geprennt wein schad oder nucz sei, vnd wie er gerecht oder felschlich gemacht sei , [Nuremberg], [c. 1491] [BOD Ink F-174 – GW 10121]. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. URL:

[3] Hans Folz: Wem der geprant wein nutz sey oder schad … Bamberg, Marx Ayrer und Hans Bernecker, 1493 | SBB, JH.Inc.typ.IV.322, Bl. 1r. Staatsbibliothek Bamberg.

[4] Spode, Hasso. “The First Step toward Sobriety: The ‘Boozing Devil’ in Sixteenth-Century Germany.” Contemporary Drug Problems 21, no. 3 (September 1994): 453–83. doi:10.1177/009145099402100307.

No School Like the Old-School: A Unique Madeira Advertisement in Washington, DC during 1835

September 7, 2019 Leave a comment

Detail from Tanner, Henry Schenck. City of Washington. 1836. [0]

Thomas H. Jacobs and James Gowen created their Washington, DC, based wine firm Gowen & Jacobs in 1829.  Both men had previous experience as wine importers and merchants in Philadelphia.  In fact, Gowen maintained his establishment in Philadelphia to help with the wine selections down at their Washington, DC firm.  Their aim was to stock an extensive selection of foreign wines and liquors.  In particular, they catered to members of Congress who typically brought their own supplies of wine to Washington.  Gowen & Jacobs aimed to be the new source for all of their vinuous needs.

Congress moved from Philadelphia to Washington, DC during November, 1800.  When Gowen & Jacobs opened their store, the city population was estimated at nearly 19,000.  A decade later, in 1840, it had climbed to roughly 27,000.

Partial Cadastral Map around Center Market. 1836. [2]

Gowen &  Jacobs were located at 7th St NW and Pennsylvania Ave.  This placed them halfway between the President’s House and the Capitol.  There were four markets serving the District at the time and their storefront location placed them across the street from the Centre Market. This market was located between 7th and 9th Streets with the store on the west side of 7th street fronting the market. This was the principal market of the city with one guide book going so far as to state, “in the quality and abundance of the commodities brought there for sale, it is not excelled by any” other.[3]

This prime location placed them within two blocks of the Patriotic and Washington Banks along with Gadsby’s and Brown’s Hotels.  By the end of the year they were fully stocked with Old London Particular Madeira, Old Pale Sherry, Old Champagne, Old Bordeaux, and more including Burgundy, Hock, and Sauternes.[4]

“Old school vintage of 1803” from Gowen’s & Jacobs’ advertisement. 1835. [5]

Gowen & Jacobs laid in a large selection of old wine during the fall of 1835.  In a series of advertisements address to the “Members of Congress” they laid out some enticing selections.  Of importance to this post is their description of one particular wine found amongst a “large stock of Old Bottled Madeiras”.  Here we find “the Stevenson bottled in St. Croix–the old Old school Vintage of 1803″. [Emphasis added.]

The “old school” phrase dates back to the mid-18th century but as far as I can tell, these advertisements are unique with regards to the subject of wine.  As the 19th century progressed, an appreciation for ever older bottles of Madeira continued to develop.  This particular wine of the “Old school Vintage of 1803” would have been bottled just one or two years later.  Its long life in glass made it particularly different than wines which would have gained their age on the Island of Madeira.  These wines would have concentrated in wood before making the long journey to America where they were finally bottled.

“Old Wine and Liquors” from Gowen’s & Jacbobs’ advertisement. 1835.

[0] Tanner, Henry Schenck. City of Washington. [Philadelphia: H.S. Tanner, 1836] Map.

[1] Advertisement. Daily National Intelligencer Thursday, Nov 05, 1829 Washington (DC), DC Vol: XVII Issue: 5230 Page: 3

[2] Partial cadastral map of the district around the Center Market, N.W. Washington D.C. 1836. Map.

[3] Watterson, George.  A Picture of Washington. 1840. URL:,+George.+A+Picture+of+Washington.+1840&source=gbs_navlinks_s

[4] Advertisement. United States’ Telegraph Saturday, Nov 21, 1829 Washington (DC), DC Page: 3

[5] Advertisement. United States’ Telegraph Saturday, Nov 28, 1835 Washington (DC), DC Page: 3

[6] Centre Market and Vicinity. Author(s): Washington Topham. Source: Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. 26 (1924), pp. 1-88. Published by: Historical Society of Washington, D.C. Stable URL: Accessed: 06-09-2019 15:54 UTC