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Richard Twining’s Observations on the Tea Trade (1785)

Observations on the Tea and Window Act and on the tea trade (screen capture from site)
Observations on the Tea and Window Act and on the tea trade (screen capture from site)

It should come as no surprise that the various family members of a prominent English tea company should come in for a mention here now and then, at a site that’s focused on English tea and tea culture. That family is, of course, the Twining family, whose firm started operating long before Americans had even formed themselves into a country.

Twinings was started by Thomas Twining in 1706 and family members have had a hand in running the business since them. They included Thomas Twining’s grandson, Richard Twining, who was profiled previously at this site. Richard Twining got into the business around 1765 and twenty years later published a volume called Observations on the Tea and Window Act: And on the Tea Trade.

Just a year earlier the British Parliament had enacted the Commutation Act, which had served to reduce the stiff tax on tea of 119% to 12.5%. As Twining wrote, in the introduction to this relatively brief (66 pages) volume, the act “does, at this moment, very much engage the public attention.” He also noted the impact of the previously high taxes on tea. He remarked that by some estimates tea importers the East India Company were responsible for about half of the tea trade while smugglers accounted for the other half. Although there were some estimates that suggested that smugglers might even have captured as much as two-thirds of the tea business.

Twinings even goes so far as to say that it was the “evils of Smuggling” which brought about the reduction in tea taxes in the first place. All of which is addressed in the first few pages of the work. From there Twining goes into a very detailed discussion of his thoughts on tea, taxation, smuggling and the like. Which is probably a lot more detail than the average reader needs – or even the avid tea enthusiast, for that matter. Which is to say you’re not likely to turn to this work for a page-turning reading experience anytime soon.

But if you skim past the dry bits there are actually some interesting insights into the how the tea trade was conducted nearly two and half centuries ago, including some short bits on tea processing the unsavory process of adulterating tea. And like so many of the old volumes that have been dug from the archives as the digitization of all known knowledge proceeds it’s readily available and the price is right.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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