Bilbao, Spain: 1831. Envelope or Cover.
This three-page stampless, folded letter is datelined “Bilbao 5th Augt 1831.” Although it references an enclosed invoice, the invoice is no longer present. The letter was no doubt favor-carried to Le Havre in France as it bears a faint forwarding agent cachet on the reverse that reads, “Wells & Greene Havre” and from there place on an unnamed private vessel bound for New York. There is a faint “New York Ship” transit mark dated October 15 on the front as well as a manuscript “38½ ” postal rate. (The postal rate is in error; it should have been 39½ cents; 18¾ cents x 2 for the letter and invoice plus a two-cent letter fee). Although the text is dense, the letter is easy to read and in nice shape. There is some blurring of the rate mark.
The Hoopers were very successful and very wealthy Marblehead merchant family, and the letter makes it clear were a clever and shifty bunch as well:
“The 53 bags at 7½ [reales] was purchased here; we do not consider it better if as good as . . . the succeeding parcels on the invoice . . . at 6¾. . .. I hope the wools will prove satisfactory. Messr Aguire was opposed to purchasing such low qualities, but from what I know of the market at home they will prove good enough. Most of them are of last years washing and having been so long in the bags they are a little stained next [to] the outside. In shewing them the samples should be taken from as near the center of the bag as possible. They are so dry that they would have a better appearance for laying sometime in a damp place. Fresh samples are said to look best and if drawn out some time after the wools have landed will have a fresher appearance.”. Very good. Item #009390 Early 19th century letters from Bilbao, Spain to the United States are scarce especially with a “Wells & Green” agent mark, and the content documenting an American merchant family’s intent to pass off old, substandard wool as a fresh high-quality product is enlightening.
On the surface, it seems strange that American merchants would be importing Merino wool when, by the 1830s, the size of the Merino flocks in New England numbered nearly 10,000,000 sheep. However, despite those numbers, home-grown wool accounted for only about 80% of what was required. American manufacturers needed to import 12 million pounds of wool annually to meet the demand, and Bilbao was the place to get it. The city was the trading hub for Spanish wool and hundreds of exporters worked in the city. (For more information, see O’Flanagan’s Port Cities of Atlantic Iberia. . ., and Hurwitz’s dissertation Grazing the Modern World: Merino Sheep in South Africa and the United States: 1775-1840.
Early 19th century letters from Bilbao, Spain to the United States are scarce especially with a “Wells & Green” agent mark, and the content documenting an American merchant family’s intent to pass off old, substandard wool as a fresh high-quality product is enlightening.