The Pekin Tea Co. was established in New York City circa June 1845,
possibly a successor of the Canton & Pekin Tea Co. of New York
City and Ipswich, Mass., circa earlier in the 19th century.
“Pekin” was a common 19th century name for the large Chinese city
known widely as Peking, now Beijing. The company imported green and
black teas on its own account directly from China and offered fancy
teas to the public in small quantities at low prices even wholesalers
could not get otherwise.
In 1845, the company published Guide to Tea Drinkers to acquaint
new customers with the different teas available and their
physiological and psychological benefits. Another of its early
catalogs heralded “A New Era for Tea Drinkers.” The company paraded
“The China Man” around to its various store openings to draw in
curious spectators and potential customers.
By 1849, agencies were established in Philadelphia, Boston,
Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Louis,
Toronto, Washington, D.C., and many smaller markets. Agencies were
also located in British Columbia, Australia and New Zealand. John
Goodrich was the firm’s representative in China.
The company advertised extensively, promoting “pure teas and
honest prices.” Its top sellers were Hyson, Gunpowder, Imperial and
Oolong done up in all the fancy-colored packages the “Celestial
Empire” could invent. Pekin offered newspaper editors double their ad
rate prices in tea from its catalog in exchange for long-running
notices in their pages.
Pekin aggressively undercut the market, working on a modest profit
margin. The company’s approach worked. Its store in New York City
occupied 75 and 77 Fulton. Its store in Philadelphia at 600 Callowhill
occupied four floors at the corner of Sixth Street.
Alex Jaynes operated the Pekin Tea Store in Pittsburgh, Pa., in
1847 according to the city’s business directory. It was located on
Fourth, between Wood and Market streets. In 1860, the Pittsburgh
agency was in the hands of Thomas Smith at 38 Fifth Ave.
Three years later, its location was No. 50 St. Clair St. according
to a series of copper Indian Head Civil War store cards struck in
Cincinnati for this merchant in 1863, during the small change shortage
of the Civil War era. Some rare collector issues produced in
copper-nickel dated 1864 followed.
An antebellum store card representing the Pekin Tea Co. agency in
Chicago, operated by C.N. Holden, is also known. Pekin Tea was active
in Pittsburgh through at least 1881 when it was located at 4318 Butler.
Fred L. Reed III has been a collector and writer for many years.
Reach him at www.fredwritesright.com.