Becker Brothers: Getting it down to a tea in 19th-century Dublin

Family Fortunes: My great-grand-uncle started his tea trading business in 1860, but the arrival of supermarkets and the advent of teabags meant closure after 100 years

Becker Brothers: Their first delivery van was a Model T Ford of vintage circa 1916, shown here with the driver and two of the storemen

Becker Brothers: Their first delivery van was a Model T Ford of vintage circa 1916, shown here with the driver and two of the storemen

 

In 1860 my great-grand-uncle, John Becker, commenced trading in tea at 39 Capel Street, Dublin 1. He sold his “Unrivalled Standard Tea” at four shillings per pound. He advertised extensively in national newspapers to “Grocers and Tea Dealers throughout Ireland”, advising that he was able “to supply such persons (profitably to themselves) with any quantity at a price and of a quality (always alike) that must secure the confidence of the Public”.

By early 1864 he had a second premises at 53 Thomas Street, Dublin 2. By now his price was down to three shillings and four pence per pound. He was selling sugar as a second line – “a really good article”: “Dealers, carriers and housekeepers would consult their interest by dealing at The Standard Tea Company”.

Tea arrived in plywood tea chests stamped with exotic foreign placenames

The business prospered and John’s younger brothers Michael, George and Edward gradually became partners. Becker Brothers, as it was now known, moved into 17 North Earl Street and 8 South Great Georges Street.

Horse and cart

Deliveries were originally made by horse and cart from a yard and stabling behind Georges Street, in Dame Court. In later years deliveries were made by van, the first of these being a Model T Ford of vintage circa 1916, shown here with the driver and two of the storemen.

Packing was originally done by hand. Tea arrived to the shops in plywood tea chests lined with aluminium foil and stamped with exotic foreign placenames. The shop man in the laundered brown coat selected a paper bag, opened it out and stood it on the wooden counter-top. Next he took a metal scoop to measure a quarter, half or one pound – and selected a grade of tea. Each grade was packed in a different-colour bag.

Tightly packed

He filled the bag, shook it down and tapped it lightly on the counter, making sure it was tightly packed. He weighed it on a heavy metal balance scales, adjusted the quantity of the contents if necessary, folded the top over twice, and sealed it. Finally, he wrote the price on it with a thick pen. James Joyce’s poem Bid Adieu is reputed to have been written on one of these white Becker’s Tea bags.

John and his brother George both died childless. Their shares in the business passed to Michael and Edward. The share of my great-grandfather, Edward, passed to my grandfather and then to my uncle and my father. Due to competition from supermarkets and wholesale groups, and the increasing use of teabags, specialist tea houses selling loose tea fell out of favour, and, after 110 years, the business ceased trading on March 24th, 1971.

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