Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Upton Tea Quarterly and Sir Thomas Lipton

The new issue of the Upton Tea Quarterly has arrived, and the cover image is of tea merchant Thomas J. Lipton's Shamrock, at right, showing a lead over the Columbia, which was financed principally by banker J. Pierpont Morgan, in the America's Cup race in the summer of 1899.

Are you familiar with the history of Mr. Lipton? I find him a particularly fascinating man, and this issue contains Part XXXIII of their feature titled "Reversals of Fortune in the Tea Industry."

Here are some things I learned about Lipton:

• When he applied to be a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron in England, his application was rejected and only Prince Edward (only Prince Edward!) supported his membership. The prince was told that if Lipton got into the club, it would "have but two members, you and Sir Thomas."

• Some of his critics thought his interest in yachting was purely an act of self-promotion aimed at driving his tea sales. Whether that was his intent or not, Lipton did find his yachting news appearing in every major newspaper in the U.S., and tea sales soared.

• "… his association with the NYYC (New York Yacht Club) vis-à-vis his America's Cup challenges also provided entry to a social life that was unattainable for him in England."

Reading that last line, I can almost picture a Lady Mary Crawley (or perhaps the Dowager Countess) scoffing at the idea of Sir Thomas Lipton gaining entry to the British yacht club. And yet he managed to compete in the America's Cup anyway. Although he never won, he had a reputation as being a gracious and cheerful loser. If you'd like to know more about Sir Thomas, I highly recommend this book I read a few years ago. And if you don't (yet!) have a free subscription to the Upton Tea Quarterly, you can read the article here.

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