Mystery of Samuel Pepys’ Tea Discovery Remains Unsolved After 200 Years

A 34-piece David Clayton George I miniature silver tea service, London, circa 1720, sold for $11,250 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

“And afterwards I did send for a cup of tea (a China drink) of which I never drank before, and went away.” – Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday, 25 September, 1660

By Jim O’Neal

In 1812, Scottish historian David Macpherson (The History of European Commerce with India) quoted the above tea-drinking passage from Samuel Pepys’ diary.

It’s the first record of an Englishman drinking tea.

This was an extraordinary thing to do, primarily because in 1812, Pepys’ diaries were still unknown! Although they resided in the Bodleian Library, the main research library of the University of Oxford – and had been available for inspection – no one had ever looked into them.

Or so it was thought.

Even if someone had taken a peek, they were written in a private code that had never been deciphered. How Macpherson managed to find and translate this passage, from six volumes of dense and secret scribbling, is beyond knowing. Not to mention what inspired him to look there in the first place.

Pepys (1633-1703) was born in London. He went to Cambridge, where he attended Trinity Hall and then earned a degree from Magdalen College. Not long after, he was employed as a secretary in London by Sir Edward Montagu, the 1st Earl of Sandwich.

He started his diary on Jan. 1, 1660, and continued it until 1669. It is through Pepys’ eyes that we have a remarkable view of everyday life in the middle of the 17th century. This is a highly unique first-person account of the Great Plague, the coronation of King Charles II, the Second Anglo-Dutch War, and the Great Fire of London.

Each time I think of this last event, I’m reminded of the great architect Sir Christopher Wren, who designed 52 churches, including the magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral, and his epitaph:

“Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit, but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you.” This inscription is also inscribed (in Latin) on the circle of black marble on the main floor of the dome.

So, we know who rebuilt London. Now if we could just solve the puzzle of Samuel Pepys’ diary and David Macpherson.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Trade Has Enriched Our World for Centuries

The People’s Republic of China in 1993 celebrated Marco Polo’s contributions with a commemorative 500 Yuán coin. This gold Proof sold for $52,875 at a January 2014 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

As campaign rhetoric on trade continues to be a hot topic, it may be time to review some history.

Venetian merchant Marco Polo’s arrival in 1275 at Shangdu, the capital of the Great Kublai Khan, marked the end of a four-year journey. He had traveled from Italy to the Mongol capital along the length of the Silk Road. This was an ancient network of routes that carried precious goods between China and Europe for centuries.

The Silk Road had first become a conduit for trade when the Chinese Han Dynasty pushed into Central Asia in the late 2nd century. From then on, goods like jade and silk were carried west, passed from caravan to caravan by a series of merchants who met caravans of furs, gold and horses traveling in the opposite direction. Chinese inventions like gunpowder, paper and magnetic compasses were also brought west on this route, arriving at Constantinople and the Black Sea ports.

By the 13th century, sections of the Silk Road had become less safe. However, following the Mongol conquest, the Great Kublai Khan stabilized it so a merchant could travel from Khanbalik (Beijing) to Baghdad safely. Italian city-states such as Pisa, Genoa and Venice also pioneered maritime trade across the eastern Mediterranean, which enabled merchants to connect directly with sea routes that linked West Asia and Egypt to China via the Indian Ocean.

The profits for merchants taking advantage of Pax Mongolica (peace in Eurasia) could be enormous. The costs to ship might amount to 3,500 Florins, but the cargo sold could yield seven times that. By 1326, Genoese traders were a common sight in the principal Chinese port of Zaitun.

The Silk Road flourished for another century, but the 1335 collapse of the Mongols in Persia and overthrow of the Yuan in 1368 blocked European traders at the western end by the growth of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. But the taste of profits was too intense and that’s when Portuguese sailors took over, eager to trade directly with China via the sea alternative to the defunct Silk Road.

Marco Polo (1254-1324) stayed in China for 17 years, traveling extensively in the Khan’s service, before returning to Venice, where he lived the rest of his life. Few people from this era are familiar to modern society, but last night I saw a TV commercial with a group of kids in a swimming pool playing with Marco.

It is sometimes humorous to listen to various people debating trade, but they are victims of the WTO/NAFTA/TPP/currency manipulation myths and generally unaware of the rich history of world trade and just how sophisticated our trading partners really are.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Hitler Used Unrest to Decimate Rivals, Set Europe On Path to War

By 1941, Adolf Hitler (“The Mad Merchant of Hate”) and his Axis allies occupied most of Europe and North Africa. This copy of Daredevil Comics #1 (Lev Gleason, 1941) sold for $41,825 at an August 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On June 28, 1919 – exactly five years after Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand – Germany reluctantly signed the Treaty of Versailles that ended their participation in World War I. The terms of the treaty were so punitive that the German people were stunned. After all, the treaty had been signed without any of their borders being crossed and many believed the army had been betrayed by politicians. There was even talk of restarting the war as crowds demonstrated in the streets.

The treaty was a long, extensive document that included extraordinarily high reparations (the “War Guilt” clause) covering everything from lost farmland to veteran pensions and anything in between. The French were especially eager to punish the Germans since over 1 million Frenchmen had been killed, mostly within their country. However, the Allies were also vindictive and determined to render Germany incapable of ever starting another war.

The German delegation had attempted to mitigate the harsh terms with a 400-plus page counter-proposal, but it was a futile effort and they were forced to accept the Allies’ conditions verbatim. What had been intended to cease all hostilities, ironically, merely extended them by the crushing burden imposed on the German people.

The implications turned out to be significant.

For the next two to three decades, Germans harbored deep resentment over such an unfair agreement and were susceptible to radical ideas for revenge. Further, the slowing European economies made everyday life difficult for broad swaths of people everywhere. Extremist fascist and communist ideologies seemed to offer solutions to national problems in Spain, Italy and Russia.

The National Socialist (or Nazi) Party was founded in Germany with racism as a formal guiding principle. The gradual disintegration of formal government structures cleared the way for Adolf Hitler to become chancellor. In 1933, when fire broke out at the Reichstag – the German parliament building – Hitler claimed it was a communist plot. This was all he needed as an excuse to decimate his rivals, assume an absolute dictatorship and set Europe back on the path to war.

However, it was the seeds that were planted in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles that sprouted into the conflagration that would become another war. Sadly, the whole world again would join the war, and we still bear the scars of our involvement.

William Tecumseh Sherman was right when he declared that war is hell, a lesson that every generation seems to need to learn for themselves.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

In Mid-1930s, News Joined Entertainment to Shape American Culture

The Fibber McGee and Molly radio show premiered in 1935 and aired for nearly 25 years.

By Jim O’Neal

In the mid-1930s, neither of the two big radio networks – NBC and CBS – had a news department. All they did was air a couple of daily five-minute news broadcasts that were supplied by the Press Radio Bureau. But toward the end of the decade, the country began to count on getting its news from both networks.

It became a standard evening ritual in houses. People gathered around rather large radio sets when it was time for the news and there was little conversation until it was over. They listened to commentator H.V. Kaltenborn with coverage of the Spanish Civil War, including the crackle of genuine gunfire … a real first on the radio.

In fact, as radio brought news into people’s homes, it began affecting public opinion on things going on in the world. So when something important happened in Europe, the country was eager to listen. Prior to this, they were mildly interested, but didn’t feel that they were intimately involved. Now, they were fascinated.

When Adolf Hitler annexed Austria, there was a full hour of coverage with correspondents in Paris, Berlin, London and New York acting like today’s Anderson Cooper. Then, in 1939, came the Czech crises, which was a major radio event and the country was enthralled by it … listening as much as possible. The minute-by-minute coverage monopolized the attention of the country and it was a great novelty to hear Hitler speak or British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich waving a paper and saying, “This means peace in our time!”

To hear the actual words was simply amazing.

It is no exaggeration to say that radio brought the country together, all at the same time, everyone listening to the same things. And the country liked being tied together that way. In the morning, people would say, “Did you hear that last night? What do you think?”

People didn’t quite see how all those things overseas were going to affect them personally, but it was the greatest show they’d ever been offered, and it helped the country overall achieve the melting-pot effect. Radio played a major role in helping people escape the daily humdrum with the soaps during the day and Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Bob Hope, and Fibber McGee and Molly at night.

Politics could never compete with The Shadow in my book.

Now we have to listen to both sides of every issue (sometime all sides) from “talking heads” who claim to be experts, who debate every point and counterpoint. Who are these people? How to judge their expertise or veracity when the ether is filled with so many divergent views? If you don’t have an opinion, just pick one and you can amaze your friends with your brilliant insights.

My advice is to watch the Fishing Channel. These folks really know their stuff and you can probably believe most of it … except when you hear “You should have been here last week. They were really biting!”

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

1824 Presidential Election Among Strangest in History

Henry Clay was among the presidential candidates in 1824. This folk art campaign portrait of Clay sold for $9,375 in May 2016.

By Jim O’Neal

The 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was added to clear up some fuzzy rules for presidential elections that popped up in both 1796 and 1800.

In addition to requiring separate votes for president and vice president, it added procedures for the House of Representatives if no candidate received a majority of votes. The Amendment was proposed by Congress in 1803 and then ratified by the requisite three-fourths of states in June 1804. It was easier to gain consensus in those early days.

For the next 20 years, things went smoothly as Virginians continued to occupy the White House. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe all served two terms with no controversies, at least regarding elections.

Then came 1824.

To begin, all the candidates were from the same party … the Democratic-Republican. Tennessee nominated Andrew Jackson (born in North Carolina). Kentucky chose Henry Clay. William Crawford got a nomination from Georgia, albeit from a splinter group. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina ignored state officials and nominated himself. And finally, John Quincy Adams (the eventual winner) was the conventional “favorite son” from Massachusetts following in his father’s footsteps.

Then the fun started.

First, Calhoun quickly realized he didn’t have broad support and withdrew from the presidential race. However, in a twist, he nominated himself for vice president for both Jackson and Adams, which ensured him a victory.

Crawford suffered a stroke, but remained in the race, finishing in third place. Adams finished a disappointing second in both the popular and electoral votes.

Jackson had the highest number of popular votes and ended up with the most electoral votes. However, since the votes were split four ways, he did not have a majority (more than 50 percent).

The new rules threw the election into the House of Representatives, except Clay was eliminated since only the three top electoral vote-getters were eligible for the runoff. A great controversy then erupted when Clay, who was Speaker of the House, switched Kentucky’s vote from Jackson to Adams, giving him the office … thus making Andrew Jackson the only person to win both the popular and electoral votes and lose the election.

Then John Q. Adams made Henry Clay the Secretary of State in what has become known as the infamous “corrupt bargain.” No proof has ever surfaced of this quid pro quo, but Andrew Jackson certainly believed it … so much so that he resigned from the Senate and spent the next three years plotting against Adams.

It apparently worked, since he vanquished JQA in 1828 and then won again in 1832.

If this year’s nominating process and campaigns seem to border on the bizarre, you would be right. Just consider how 1824 would compare if they had been cursed with 24/7 cable TV.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Don’t Curse Traffic; Autos Helped Create Our Thriving Consumer-Based Economy

By 1929, more than half of all American families had a car. This 1929 Ford Model A realized $42,500 at an October 2013 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Automobiles have been around for a long time. Henry Ford built his first one in 1893 and his first Model T was completed in 1908. In 1920, there were already 8 million horseless carriages sputtering and rattling around the poorly charted “roads” of the American countryside, most of them Tin Lizzies purchased for the remarkably low price of $300.

But in the succeeding years of that decade, the mass rush to the automobile began to have its impact. By 1929, more than half of all American families had a car; by 1930, there were more cars on the streets of New York City than on the entire European continent.

The change was sudden and dramatic. The automobile was the first significant improvement in self-guided travel since the bicycle was introduced in Scotland in 1839 and had caused a similarly dramatic effect on the 19th century.

The burgeoning automobile age established a new sense of freedom and individuality; people no longer had to make their plans according to train schedules and they traveled by themselves instead of with hundreds of strangers. At the same time, it also established a new, wider sense of community. Small towns that existed miles from anywhere else were now connected to each other by roads, giving large groups of people access to first-rate medical care, higher quality education, and whatever else lay “down the road.”

Thanks to the car, thousands of suburban communities flourished, providing people with the luxury of homes surrounded by real grass, despite having to commute longer distances to their jobs in the city. This even led to tourism helping blend discrete regions and meld society together. Spurred on by demanding auto owners, building roads became a prime activity of government, second only to education.

And with each mile of road came something new.

The first motel in 1925 in San Luis Obispo, Calif. The first set of red lights in NYC (1922). The first shopping center in Kansas City in 1922. The first national road atlas (Rand McNally, 1924). The first public parking garage in 1929 in Detroit.

One out of eight people who owned cars actually worked in the industry, building them or producing the required tires, oil and steel. It led to the eight-hour workday, the five-day workweek and safer working conditions. It even changed how people thought about money and credit. Buying a car was a real debt and by the end of the 1920s, more than 60 percent of all sewing machines, vacuum cleaners and refrigerators were bought on purchase plans, and one-third of all furniture, including radios!

A consumer-based economy would be a powerful force and today represents 70 percent of our total economic output.

So the next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam or cursing about too many potholes, consider the alternative and the rich history that is included.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].