In an earlier article (Cowell, 1995), a case was made that (a) the French inventor Phillipe de Girard introduced the tin can; (b) Peter Durand was acting as Girard’s agent when he patented the process in England (Durand, 1810); and (c) Durand was acting as Girard’s mouthpiece in the “Observations by the Patentee” that accompanied the publication of this patent in the September 1811 edition of the Repertory of Arts, Manufactures and Agriculture.
Crucial to this earlier investigation were the correspondance and diary of Sir Charles Blagden, a Fellow of the Royal Society. Blagden was in frequent contact with the President of the Society, Sir Joseph Banks, when both were in town. Documents relating to Girard have now been identified among the letters to Sir Joseph Banks held by the British Library (British Library, Add. MS 8100, folios 99–104). This has led to a reexamination of sections of Blagden’s diary (Library of the Royal Society, MS CB/3/6). The resulting information not only puts the three contentions above beyond doubt but also throws light on Nicolas Appert’s visit to London in 1814.
Blagden was at the heart of scientific activity in London and had a wide circle of aquaintances. He made extensive entries regularly in his diary, but unfortunately his handwriting is so notoriously bad that recovering the text of even a short passage demands intensive, often prolonged, scrutiny. This has undoubtedly limited the use that has been made of this important document. In the passages below, a series of asterisks denotes a word which could not be deciphered, and where the reading of a passage is insecure this has been noted.
Girard, the Patentee
Among the letters to Banks is one from Girard, in French, written from 65 Paternoster Row, London on January 22, 1811. This document opens by reminding Banks that he, Girard, was introduced to him by Richard Chenevix [the Irish-born chemist and mineralogist] the previous summer. The process for food preservation had been discussed then, and Banks had expressed interest in it, suggesting tests to substantiate its validity.
Banks’ absence from London had prevented this being followed up. Now, with Chenevix also away and not expected to return soon, Girard takes the liberty of approaching Banks directly and begs leave to present him with samples of preserved meat, milk, and soup for his inspection. He ends by pleading that Banks’ endorsement would smooth out all the difficulties that face a foreigner in gaining acceptance of a new idea, however useful it might be. At the head of this letter Banks wrote:
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“The pots were opened at my house on Monday Jan 20th [sic.] and the remainder deposited at the same time”
And then in a different ink:
“These were opened on 9th April. The Victuals were as good as before in all but two which had not been soldered tight. These were very bad.”
The date of January 20 in the first note is earlier than the date of Girards’ letter and so clearly an error. Sir Charles Blagden was present on both occasions and recorded these events in his diary. As he made up this diary on a daily basis, his dating is to be preferred:
“Jan 28th Went to JB’s M Girard came and brought his preserved foods. We tasted the milk, the broth & the roasted meat. All good but the milk had a *** *** taste. The broth had been kept since August last he said. The milk and beef 6 weeks in tin vessels with covers soldered on.... His patent is to be taken out in the name of Durand. The whole secret is in enclosing the roast beef boiled milk etc in a vessel hermetically in tin cases & a proper time in boiling water to heat and taking care that no air enters and varnishing. The air enclosed within the meat loses its oxygen & only azote remains which will not support fermentation of any kind. Sir JB approved of this....”
“Jan 29th Went to JB’s, found Mr Widmer there learned from him that Girard not inventor of method....”
“April 9th Went to Sir JB’s found Girard and party there who means to buy his patent and the vessels with the meat were produced and opened. 2 were found bad because air had got in thro’ some small crevice. Security to be given upon to the money if the patent does not hold good....”
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The transcription of the last sentence, above, is not entirely secure, due to the difficulty of reading Blagden’s almost impenetrable handwriting.
These records clearly show Girard heat-preserving food in tin cans in London in the latter months of 1810 and relegate Durand to the status of his British agent. They also show Girard carrying out in person the actions reported in the Observations by the Patentee (Cowell, 1995)—the containers, the products, and the people to whom they are presented are exactly the same in both cases.
In the bound volume of correspondence to Banks, Girard’s letter is split into two sheets (folios 99 and 104). Between these two are found other documents relating to Girard. Perhaps, before being mounted in the present volume, these further documents were preserved within the folded sheet of Girard’s two-page letter. Folios 102–103 consist of extracts from some of the letters of recommendation published in the first edition of Appert’s L’Art de Conserver (Appert, 1810) which have been modified to eliminate any mention of Appert’s name. These two pages are in the same handwriting as Girard’s letter and on the same paper. In my previous article (Cowell, 1995), I speculated as to whether Girard was acting independently or was acting in concert with Appert in patenting the process in England. The suppression of Appert’s name in these extracts is strongly suggestive that the former is the case. This reopens the question of what Appert was seeking to achieve when he came to London in 1814, a matter which will be considered below.
Widmer not only spoke to Blagden about the origin of the process (see the diary entry above) but also wrote to Banks. His letter is preserved at folio 100 in the Banks letters. It is dated January 29, 1811, and informs Banks that it was Appert who had discovered the process and had published “une petite brochure” on the subject the previous year. He says he thinks he has a copy and offers to send it to Banks on his return to France. Thus, the day after the first tasting of Girard’s products, both Banks and Blagden were aware of Appert and his priority in the discovery.
There is no indication in the records that this knowledge prejudiced them against Girard. In any case, any priority Appert had in the discovery of the process would not have invalidated the Girard/Durand patent. The patent merely offered limited protection to a manufacturer who was to bear the expense and commercial risk of introducing the process into the country for the first time. It was not concerned with the intellectual property of a foreigner. In any case, Girard’s introduction of tin cans, as history was to show, was a significant improvement on Appert’s process.
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Folio 101, lying between Widmer’s letter and the transcripts from L’Art de Conserver, is a letter to Banks from Mr. George Smith of the Navy Office saying that he is acquainted with the gentleman who has obtained a patent for food preservation and asking for an audience with Banks:
“Mr Smith is desirous of explaining to Sir Jos Banks how the Gentleman alluded to is situated with respect to his Family and connections in France, which makes it very urgent that his proposal, if it should be considered eligible, should be submitted to the Government as soon as practicable.”
Appert and the Mysterious Mr. Laesmann
Appert traveled to London in 1814 very shortly after the fall of Napoleon. The purpose for this visit has never seemed entirely clear, though Blagden recorded that “it appeared he came for profit” (Cowell, 1995). The suggestion that he was involved with Girard in taking out the 1810 patent now seems unlikely. As a consequence, Blagden’s diary for June/July 1814 was reexamined and revealed four further references to Appert beyond those identified earlier. Three (for July 14, 15, and 16) are trivial, but one is of some importance:
“30th June: Mr Appert came with Mr Laesmann; drew up a certificate which signed by Sir J B, myself and others, that approved of the preserved things we had tasted. Mr Laesmann with him: meaning to set up a manufactory for *** as Laesmann keeps a tavern & Burton alehouse; they were all sensible of my good offices.”
Before the word “tavern” above, Blagden had written the word “shop” and then scored it through. Unfortunately, the one crucial word in this passage, indicated by asterisks, proved indecipherable. However, the diary entry not only refers to the well-known testimonial letter that Appert was to reproduce in a later edition of L’Art de Conserver but also introduces a hitherto unknown figure with whom he was planning some commercial venture. That Laesmann was a tavern-keeper recalls a passage in the 4th edition of L’Art de Conserver (Appert, 1831) where Appert describes a method of bulk cooking food in steam-heated kettles which he had adopted at his factory in France and which he had first seen in London:
“Lors de mon voyage à Londres en 1814, j’ai vu, dans une taverne de la Cité, celle ou la Banque donne ces fêtes, un appareil à vapeur fort simple, et au moyen duquel on fait cuire tous les jours le dîner de cinq à six cents personnes.”
The establishment where the Bank of England held their “fêtes” was the City of London Tavern (often referred to as, simply, The London Tavern), which then stood at the southern end of Bishopsgate, about 250 m from the Bank of England, for which it was often mistaken by visitors to London (Callow, 1899). This was no conventional public house but essentially a substantial suite of function rooms at which many public meetings and dinners were held.
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In 1794, the Bank decided to hold a dinner to celebrate the jubilee of its charter. The minutes of the Committee of Treasury on May 6 that year noted that the London Tavern was “the properest place” to hold this event (Bank of England Archives, MS G8/5). From 1811 onward, the sums paid by the Bank for dinners and other catering expenses are individually listed under the heading “General Charges” in the Bank’s General Ledger (Bank of England Archives, MS ADM 7/38). The entries name the proprietors, not the establishments, but a contemporary trade directory, Holden’s Annual Land & Country Directory for 1811, gives the proprietors of the City of London Tavern as Terry & Co. This name dominates the entries in the Bank’s ledger. In this period, half the Bank’s catering expenditure was with the City of London Tavern, amounting to some £1,000 per annum. No other establishment saw anything like this level of patronage.
Appert seems to have achieved a remarkable intimacy with the London Tavern within a short time of coming to England. What, if any, relationship there was between the tavern keeper Laesmann and the London Tavern is unknown, as is the purpose of the factory that Appert was planning to set up with Laesmann. As Appert was at this time clearly publicizing his preservation process, it seems likely that the factory was related to that. But how could this be legally accomplished when the Girard/Durand patent was then in the hands of Donkin, Hall, and Gamble and was being actively worked (Cowell, 1995)? This brings into focus an aspect of that patent that has, to the writer’s knowledge, never previously been given attention.
The Girard/Durand patent covered “England, Wales and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.” If a patent was required at that time to cover Scotland, a separate application had to be made and a separate grant obtained. The same was true for Ireland. Compared with England, relatively few patents were taken out for Scotland and Ireland, since these were then not major manufacturing centers.
The Intellectual Property Collections of the British Library hold indexes of the patents taken out in Scotland and Ireland under these arrangements. That for Ireland shows that Durand was granted a patent for his food preservation process there on October 16, 1810. In the light of this Irish patent, it is interesting that Donkin, Hall, and Gamble’s original factory in London was to close in 1830, with production being continued under the Gamble name at Morrison’s Quay, Cork, Ireland.
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Durand’s name does not appear among the list of Scottish patentees, nor is any Scottish food preservation patent listed that was taken out around the time of the English and Irish patents. It would therefore appear that the Girard/ Durand patent covered England, Wales, and Ireland only. It did not cover Scotland or British territories overseas. Whether it was the intention of Appert and Laesmann to exploit these loopholes is unknown, but they were exploited, with production in Scotland and the Bahamas, by a man whose close adherence to Appert’s orginal procedures was to bring him to ruin and who introduced products that would almost certainly have been of interest to the London Tavern.
In 1819, Anaeus Morrison, a Glasgow lawyer, obtained patents in Scotland, Ireland, and England (Morrison, 1819) for what he claimed to be an improved method of corking vessels for food preservation. The most extensive information about him comes from a booklet written by John Gamble’s son, Fredrick (Gamble, 1839):
“What could have induced Mr Morrison, who was a lawyer in excellent practice, to go over head and ears into mercantile speculation, which he knew nothing about, is not for us to inquire....
“Although the speculation, from his [Morrison’s] obstinate perseverence in using earthenware jars and corks for the preserving of provisions instead of tin, proved his ruin with that of many others, he unquestionably did the state and trade some service....”
Gamble’s comment is suggestive of there being another hand behind Morrison’s initiative, and Morrison’s reluctance to embrace processing in tinplate recalls Appert’s reluctance to take this step (Bishop, 1978 ). Fredrick Gamble credits Morrison with the introduction of heat-preserved salmon and tells an intriguing story about another of his product innovations, heat-preserved turtle. Turtle was popular at London banquets of the period. Callow (1899), in describing dinners at the London Tavern, speaks of port making its appearance at the table “after the turtle and venison had performed their respective duties.”
Gamble, at the time of the publication of his booklet, was promoting a scheme for an integrated meat-processing factory in Dublin, and to demonstrate the durability of heat-preserved foods he opened a “case” of Morrison’s turtle. This turtle had been preserved more than 20 years earlier (i.e., before 1819) in the Bahamas and had come into Gamble’s possession by a highly circuitous route as a consequence of Morrison’s financial failure. Morrison’s preserved turtle may therefore be the first “Appertized” product manufactured in the Americas, as it predates the instances cited by Bishop (1978).
by Norman D. Cowell is at 2 Burford Lea, Elstead, Godalming, Surrey, GU8 6HT, UK (phone +(0)1252–703317, [email protected]tel.com).
Appert, N. 1810. “L’Art de Conserver, pendant plusieurs Annëes, toutes les Substances Animales et Vegetales.” Patris et cie, Paris.
Appert, N. 1831. “Le Livre de Tous les Ménages, ou L’Art de Conserver, pendant plusieurs Annëes, toutes les Substances Animales et Vegetales,” 4th ed. Barrois l’aine, Paris.
Bishop, P.W. 1978. Who introduced the tin can? Nicolas Appert? Peter Durand? Bryan Donkin? Food Technol. 32(4): 60-64, 67.
Callow, E. 1899. “Old London Taverns.” Downey & Co., London.
Cowell, N. 1995. Who introduced the tin can?—A new candidate. Food Technol. 49(12): 61-64.
Durand, P. 1810. Preserving animal and vegetable foods. British patent 3372.
Gamble, F. 1839. “Observations on the Preservation of Animal and Vegetable Substances.” Milliken & Son, Dublin.
Morrison, A. 1819. A combination of certain processes and manufactures whereby animal and vegetable food may be preserved for a great length of time. British patent 4350.