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Bringing back John Company

KNOWING THAT I'd appreciate the thought more than the gift, a friend returning from a holiday in England brought back gifts that I've appreciated as much as the thought. They were both from the British Library's souvenir counter and one reminded me that the East India Company is still very much alive and kicking. It was a box of `The Staunton Earl Grey' tea, packed for `The East India Company, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WG2A 3AA'.

The new incarnation of the Company that had been founded by the Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth I in 1600, was incorporated in 1998 by Anthony Wild and a partner. Wild, who worked with Taylor Tea and Coffee, tracked down the rights to the original East India Company with the Crown and bought them lock, stock, insignia and coat of arms. These are being used to package and market under the East India Company brand tea, coffee, spices, textiles, porcelain and gifts, amongst a whole range of items linked with the original trade.

The gift tea that came my way was packaged in a carton that announced that ``the East India Company introduced tea to Britain and the English-speaking world'' and noted the following about `The Staunton Earl Grey' (considered by tea connoisseurs as one of the finest teas in the world):

``The true origin of Earl Grey remained a mystery until recent research in The East India Company archives revealed that the use of orange flavouring with tea was first observed in China in 1793 by a Company botanist, Sir George Staunton, after whom the tea is named. Today, Bergamol, unknown in China at that time, is used to flavour most Earl Grey teas. The Staunton Earl Grey is uniquely close to the original concept.'' Alas, like most Indian tea drinkers, I find one tea much the same as another and the Staunton Earl Grey is wasted on me, though not the information accompanying it and its striking packaging, featuring an 1822 painting, of Whampoa harbour on the Canton River, by W.J. Huggins.

The second gift was even more fascinating, so it goes straight into my collector's box. It's a picture postcard with a difference; instead of a picture, it features an 1800 advertisement (or was it what we call a `bit-notice') of Welch and Stalker of No.134, Leadenhall Street, London (not far from John Company's headquarters) listing the `Neceffaries for a Writer to India'. The-two column list includes the following items:

A cot. Hair mattrafs and bolfter. Feather pillow. Blankets. Quilt. White fheets. Pillow-cafes. A fet of cot-curtains. Callico fhirts. Night-fhirts. White neck-handkerchiefs. Black filk focks. Towels. Pocket-handkerchiefs. Cotton caps. Net-caps. White filk hofe. White cotton ditto. Brown cotton ditto. Worfted ditto. Cotton focks. Brown cotton gloves. White filk ditto. Mufquetto trowfers. Striped gingum ditto. Pantaloons. Surtout-coat. Boat clock. Coats of thin cloth. Fancy-waiftcoats with fleeves. Thin breeches. Callico drawers. Flannel drawers. Cloth and trimmings for two coats, to make in India. Cafimere and trimmings for breeches. Dreffing-gown. Foul-clothes bag. Needles, thread & c. Pieces of hair-riband. Pieces of fhoe-riband. Fine hats. Sea-hats. Travelling caps. Shoes. Boots. Boot-jack. Silver-hilted fword. Silk belt. Fowling-piece. Pair of piftols. Saddle and bridle. Stationary. Travelling-cafe. Moorifh grammar. Perfian ditto. Ditto dictionary. Ditto interpreter. Oufley's Perfian Mifcellanies. Carlifle's Arabian Poetry. Razor-cafe complete. Hair-powder and pomatum. Powder bag and puff. Boxes of fhaving- powder. Combs and brufh. Pounds of Windfor foap. Pounds of common foap. Pewter bafon. Clothes-brufh. Set of fhoe-brufhes and blacking-balls. Silver tea-fpoons and tongs in a cafe. A mahogany knife-cafe, containing fix large filver fpoons, twelve table knives and forks, and fix defert ditto. Quart tin mug. Pint ditto. Tea-kettle or tin boiler. Pounds of wax candles. Flat candleftick. Sciffors. Pen-knives. Cork-fcrews. Small looking- glafs with flider. Buckles. Sleeve-buttons. Cafe of inftruments. Tin fugar-canifter and padlock. Pounds of lump-fugar. Tea, coffee, and chocolate. Portable foup. Sage and balm. Pounds of tobacco. Folding camp-ftool. Hamper of wine. Liquor-cafe. Liquor. Box for books. Trunk. Cheft.

Fortunately for all concerned, a clerk's requirements today are rather less than all that, but it's a list that trivia collectors like me will hoard in remembrance of an age past.

The columnist's footnote: As you would have guessed, `f' was often used for `s'. I've never found out the reason why. Any help from a reader?

S. Muthiah

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