Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Fraudulent trade marks


We have all heard of the tricks of our American cousins—of their wooden hams, fictitious nutmegs, and contract boots with the soles pasted on, and many of us have come to the belief that all the rascality is to be found on the other side of the herring-pond. This doctrine is comfortable, but unhappily it is not true. We have before us now a parliamentary report on Trade Marks and Merchandise Marks, two subjects on which our own Government lawyers are essaying to legislate. What a seething mass of roguery runs beneath the smooth surface of our so-called civilisation! If anybody doubts the truth of this remark, we recommend him to take a turn for an hour at the thin blue-book before us. Mr. Roebuck some time ago scared the nation with a recital of the manner in which foreigners were forging the Sheffield trade marks, and the evidence contained in this report fully warrants his statement. It appears that we are gradually losing our foreign cutlery and hardware trade, in consequence of pirates over the sea. We suffered of old from the Northmen and the Danes who swept our coasts, but now they penetrate into the very heart of the country, and snatch the bread from our working men. Our readers doubtless know that the excellence of our cutlery has long become famous throughout the world, and also that the seat of that trade is concentrated principally in Sheffield. The excellence of the wares there produced is guaranteed by the affixing of certain trade marks upon them by the different manufacturers of eminence belonging to the Cutlers’ Company. Let us instance for example the knives of Rodgers and Son. If the reader possesses a pocket-knife of this maker, and opens it, he will see that, in addition to the name, there is a Maltese cross and a plain cross stamped upon the shoulder of the knife. This is the trade mark, the endorsement of the firm with respect to its excellence. This trade mark is very valuable; possibly the manufacturer would not sell it for 20,000l. There are other trade marks almost equally valuable. An adze maker will select as his mark or emblem a pipe, another will put on a hatchet, another a lion, a fourth a goat, according to the class of men whom the tool or implement is likely to reach. The reason why trade marks are stamped on this kind of “dry goods” is that they are often made for a distant market, where the peasantry can understand a simple emblem, when they would not be able to read a maker’s name. The Canadian backwoodsman, for example, has found that his old adze marked with a pipe was excellent; he therefore demands a new adze with a similar mark upon it. The name of the maker he may not be able to read, any more than the savage to whom these goods are sometimes sold.

Now here a fine field for forgery was open, and some of our friends across the water have not been long in availing themselves of it. Ramscheid and Solingen, in North Prussia, it appears, are the seat of this nefarious trade. The manufacturers in these towns keep a regular assortment of forged English marks, and send them out to the order of their customers, as a matter of course. The traveller for an English house happening to be in the former town a short time since, one of the manufacturers observing the name upon his card, remarked, “That is our trade mark, too,” and illustrated his position by pulling down a parcel with the spurious articles thus stamped with the forged mark. He perfectly well knew that the article was spurious; but the roguery had been perpetrated so long, that he absolutely imagined that he had a right to the mark by proscription. No sooner, we are told, does an English trade mark become famous abroad, than the agents for the German houses immediately send word home to have it forged, and within six months a consignment of the spurious article enters the field, at a rate so low that the genuine article is driven out of the market. The roguish Prussian manufacturer not only destroys our Sheffield trade in this way, but he has the audacity to mark the rubbish he sells at a low rate with some celebrated English maker’s name or emblem, and puts the name of his own firm upon a better-class article. He then goes to the customer, and says, “Here are the inferior English goods at a dear price, and here is our own make at a cheap one.” In this manner many of our manufacturers who used to supply the South American market have been obliged to relinquish the trade. The shipment of these fraudulent goods is managed so adroitly, that our foreign customers are sure to fall into the trap. Thus, for instance, the goods are sent from abroad to Hull, and are there trans-shipped for some foreign market. When they have arrived, it is advertised that so many cases of Rodgers’ cutlery, or of some other celebrated name, have just been landed from an English ship.

As far as Englishmen are concerned, there is now existing in Sheffield a system of trade marks which prevents piracy. These laws are, however, operative only in the county of Hallamshire, as the district including Sheffield and a radius of six miles around is called; but outside of Sheffield the only remedy against fraudulent imitations of trade marks is by an injunction and proceedings in Chancery; and we all know how very unsatisfactory such a method of obtaining justice generally is. The cutlers of London have also a law, by which the use of the word “London” is prohibited to any manufacturer of cutlery residing at a distance of ten miles from St. Paul’s; but any article may be stamped with the address of any street in the metropolis, provided this word be omitted. The purchaser may therefore be certain that a knife marked “London” is “town made.”

But it will be asked will not the Prussian Government—the Government which professes to rule over the best educated nation in the world—give us a remedy for this abominable system of forgery perpetrated by their manufacturers? Unfortunately no. There are excellent laws by which a Prussian can obtain redress against a Prussian for infringing his mark or forging his name, but this law does not extend to foreigners. On the other side, the Prussian can obtain justice in England against an Englishman committing the like offence; but then our process of proof is so expensive, and the result of law-suits is so uncertain, that foreigners do not care to put our laws in force. It might be otherwise if we had a treaty with the Prussians as we have with France, where we have absolute protection for the mere fee of registering, which only costs two francs; but if we hope for a treaty with Prussia, we must be able to offer them something in exchange for what we get: their Government would rightly say, if we give you the advantage of the cheap Prussian law to protect your manufactures, we must have something better than your cumbersome English law, which is practically inoperative to protect us Prussians. This is so reasonable that we trust the Bill about to be brought into Parliament will give us some cheap method of registration of trade marks which will protect us at home, and by reciprocity abroad, from the frauds of piratical manufacturers.

But we must not grow Pharisaical and thank God that we are not as other men, for the pages of this very blue-book unfortunately prove that we have just as much roguery going on in our tight little island as can be found abroad. We have all heard for instance of an operation called “shaving the ladies,” yet we doubt if any lady is aware of the very clean shave she is constantly undergoing. If she is accustomed to frequent “cutting shops,” where the stock is periodically thrown into a state of convulsions in its efforts to sell itself off, of course she expects to be done: but possibly she does not know that for years the trade in “small wares,” as it is termed, has been losing its conscience in the most remarkable manner. There is, in short, a regular conspiracy to cheat between the manufacturers and the great wholesale dealers. If a lady, for instance, buys a reel of cotton marked a hundred yards, she imagines, possibly, that she gets that quantity. Miserable delusion! There are not more than seventy. All goods, again, that are sold in the piece, run short: “short-stick,” in fact, is a slang term for insufficient lengths. Some of the wholesale middlemen will send up labels to the manufacturer indicating false lengths, and they are put on, as a matter of course, by many spinners. The Britisher is thus cheated out of 30 per cent. of his goods: but that is nothing to the way in which the Yankees plunder. Thus they will forge some well-known name, say in thread, and they will keep lowering the lengths on the reels from seventy until they touch thirty yards only, still retaining the hundred yards label. In this manner a good name is “run to death.” Then a fresh one is selected, and brought into discredit in a similar manner.

Of old there used to be five hundred pins in a packet; now there are often only two hundred. Articles marked “worsted,” again, often have 95 per cent. of cotton in them. The loss, it must be observed, always falls on the ultimate purchaser, as many of the articles cannot be unwound to be measured without being spoilt.

We can understand a petty tradesman perpetrating these contemptible frauds; but what shall we think of the integrity of British merchants, when we find that it is not at all an uncommon thing for them to send up to the manufacturers labels imitating those used by excellent makers, and stipulating that they shall be affixed to inferior goods of other makers? The Merchandise Marks Bill is aimed at this organised system of frauds perpetrated on our wives and daughters.

We may not be very deeply moved at the ladies being cleanly shaved, but the male Briton will not fail to feel indignant at the frauds perpetrated on his bitter beer. It will possibly be new to the public, that Bass does not bottle his own ale, but sells it in barrels, and supplies his customers with a sufficient number of labels marked with his trade mark (a red triangle) for the quantity of bottles which the cask will fill. So far, good; but these labelled bottles henceforth become the vehicles for a series of frauds. The publican round the corner, who supplies you, good reader, with your daily pint of Bass, stipulates for the return of the empty bottles, that he may fill them again with salted, sugared, filthy Burton; and again and again it is done, as long as the famous “red triangle” will keep decently clean upon the bottles. This is a matter which touches the thirsty Briton, and he should see to it. Mr. Bass evidently is unwittingly lending himself to a most detestable cheat. Imagine, good reader, the basket from Bunkum and Pott’s, at your next pic-nic, duly unpacked by the river side in the charming month of June, and the tumblers held out by thirsty souls to John in attendance, only to receive, instead of the charming sparkling pale ale, sweet and clammy public-house beer! Would transportation be sufficient punishment for the rascal who has done that thing? It seems to us that if the labels were pasted over the cork, instead of on the bottles, and if the forging of this label were made a misdemeanor, punishable with imprisonment, as the Merchandise Marks Bill proposes, we might still rest in security as to the integrity of our Bass. As it is, even your black servant in India knows that he can get one coin more for an empty labelled bottle than for a plain one, and thus the swindle circulates round the world.

If we turn to arms, again, we find fraud pursuing us. Mr. Westley Richards complains that common rifles are stamped with his name, and sent into the market as genuine articles; and but too often the purchaser gets his hand blown off. It is always the English gentleman who has to pay the penalty of the fraud. We recommend this particular instance, therefore, to the attention of the sporting members of the House of Commons, and it will doubtless go some way towards obtaining their hearty concurrence in a measure which will put down a growing system of fraud which is sapping the integrity of the working and mercantile classes of the country.

A. W.