I learned a lot about historical business records from the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University, largely due to their resident expert in Business Archives, Stacy Capner who has also driven the innovative Wales Powering the World Project. I discussed my approach to business archives, very much that of a material culture historian who is interested in charting the journeys and transformation of materials and objects, at The Bottom Line, a Business Archives workshop held in Swansea in January.
While undertaking a survey of copper archives in Swansea The collection with which I became most familiar was the Grenfell Collection (LAC/45). Pascoe Grenfell and Sons (PG&S) was one of the premier players in the global copper business from 1830 until their liquidation in 1892. As as result of their assiduous record keeping much of their business remains documented in several archives. In addition to Swansea, collections can also be found in Buckinghamshire and Bangor. Bangor University Archives holds a collection of records pertaining to the previous incarnation of PG&S, Williams and Grenfell. This collection contains an exceptional set of documents called Ticketings.
Swansea and Cornwall ticketings, 1829-34
There are twelve bundles of ticketing documents which record a formative period in the growth of the copper industry and the centralisation of smelting and refining processes in Glamorgan, especially Swansea. They also provide rich fodder for the comparative historian as they allow you to contrast data from Cornish mines and those of the rest of Britain and Ireland.
This was a formative period, during which the smelters began dominating price setting. These documents are rare survivals which have hitherto escaped the attention of economic historians. They bear testimony to the business negotiations that took place between smelters’ agents (overwhelmingly based in Swansea, Neath and Llanelli) and mining companies.
The ticketing events took place in Cornwall (Redruth) exclusively for Cornish and Devonian ores, and from 1815 in Swansea for the sale of Welsh, Irish and foreign ores. Cornish ticketings had been taking place since the early eighteenth century. The events are described by William Pryce in his Mineralogia Cornubiensis (1778). Several of the expanding South Wales smelting firms were established by Cornish ex-mining agents such as John Henry Vivian and Pascoe Grenfell.
While statistical synopses are available for this period in contemporary editions of the Mining Journal, and from a published Synopsis of Cornwall and Swansea ticketings from 1800 to 1848 by William Polkinghorne, analyses of these documents will enable me to map actual relationships between specific mining companies and smelting concerns. It will also help to establish how the supply chain centred in Swansea compared with that of Cornwall.
The period these documents cover is significant because it charts a period of ‘open negotiation’ between mining and smelting concerns, following the failure of the First Copper Trade Association (1824-29)–a cartel of smelters that fixed the price they paid for copper ore and other unrefined copper products. More on that soon.
Nineteenth-century Excel spreadsheets
The Bangor Williams and Grenfell collection contains twelve bundles of approximately thirty ticketing documents. They record each bid made by smelters’ agents for lots of copper ore that were raised from various mines. Smelters’ agents had a fortnight to sample each lot of ore they were interested in before the bidding event (also known as ticketings). Not every smelter bid on every lot and not every smelter won the right to purchase any ore at a given ticketing. The winning bids were underlined in instances when more than one smelter offered the same highest bid (it is assumed) the lots were split.
Their format resembles an Excel spreadsheet with lots from various mines listed in the first column and smelting companies listed in the first row. At this ticketing 40 lots were on offer. Some mines offered a number lots of varying quantity and quality. In this example a number of the Cornish mines offered up to seven lots. Each lot varied in size, some as small as seven tons, others weighing in at over 130 tons. In addition to the bids placed, the ticketing documents record the weight of copper ore raised and on offer (Tons), the copper metal produceable from it expressed as a fraction (Prod.), the Excess and the Standard price per ton of metal for that mine. Each bid (£-s-d) is per ton of copper ore. The document is summarised by a clerk with a statement of Average (metal) Produced and Average Standard (price).
Analysis and questions
I am currently working on two ticketing documents as a pilot. One from Swansea, dated May 1829 and this one from Cornwall. I am on a steep learning curve as although my primary motive in analysing these documents is to map which mines supplied which smelters in this six-year period, I also want to extract quantitative information so I can share the data with economic and business historians. This means I have to do much more work on ensuring my reading of these documents is correct.
I am treading carefully with imperial measurements, fractions and currency calculations. I was fortunate enough to have sat through a number of mathematics lessons at school on imperial calculations (240 old pence in a pound, 12 pence in a shilling; one imperial ton is 1016kg etc…) and I am rapidly recalling as much as I can and will be contacting colleagues with much more econometric experience than me to advise me.
There are other elements I am unsure about, for example, what Excess, expressed as a fraction, refers to. Is it moisture content which other records often mention as leeway for further negotiation on price? I am also working my way through understanding how to make calculations based on the the figure for metal produced (Prod.) My deductions suggest that this refers to the proportion of metal extractable from each lot, based on the sample assayed. So, in this example, of the 104 tons produced in the first lot from Consolidated Mines, 13 and 3/8 parts of the ore is actual copper metal. Expressed as a decimal fraction this equates to approximately 7.78 tons of metal.
Vivian and Sons (V&S) won this lot, bidding £9-15-6 per ton of ore. As a single figure, V&S paid 2346d (old pence) or £9.78 old pounds, expressed as a decimal. For 104 tons this lot cost V&S £1016.6 old pounds, which would yield, in theory, 7.78 tons of copper metal. The Standard given for this lot is 93 1/2. But what is this Standard? How does it relate to the Average Standard, expressed as a figure of account in £-s-d?
The Cambrian newspaper of Swansea regularly reported the price paid for copper ore throughout the nineteenth century, usually summarising totals of tons produced by each mine and the price per ton paid by the purchasers. This example from November 1811 refers to copper ore sold at Truro, Cornwall. No information is given on the result of assaying so we don’t have the same information on the quality of copper ore produced as we do in the ticketing documents. Nevertheless, this information will greatly enhance my mine to smelter mapping process and greatly expand its chronological range.