Clear Lake Coffee Roasters Presents: Explorer Series, History Edition - More than 100 Years of Roasting in Boston, A Wholly Unremarkable and Yet Totally Remarkable Coffee Roasting Company - September 20, 2020

Swain, Earle & Co

The oldest company in the world is a Japanese construction company founded in 578 AD. Nine of the 20 oldest companies in the world are Japanese. Oddly, to my mind at least, three of these are hotels. Seven of the 20 oldest companies in the world are pubs, wineries, or breweries, which is comforting, in a way, if you’re me. The youngest company among the top 20 oldest companies is 1,000 years old.

Nevertheless and on the other hand, go far enough into the future and most of us work for companies that will one day be forgotten. The oldest company in the world is only 1,400 years old, after all. That’s young in terms of the age of civilizations but old for a business, especially a business today, in the early decades of the 21st century. These days, if a business lasts two decades, it’s beating the average. A hundred years ago, on the other hand, the average lifespan of a company was more than four times what it is today, nearly 70 years.

I’m not sure I know what this means, that over the last 100 years the average lifespan of a company has shrunk from 67 years to 15 years. But I think I know that the “average” coffee roasting company from “yesteryear” might be interesting to look at.

Introducing: Swain, Earle & Co, a wholly unremarkable and yet totally remarkable coffee roasting company with offices at 63 Commercial Street and a factory at 5 Mercantile Street in Boston, 100 years ago, a company that lived until its founders died.


Founded in 1868 in Boston as, Swain, Platt & Earle, the company was emblematic of coffee roasters of their time. They traded in spices, tea, coffee, dry goods, cigars, and “general groceries.” Sometimes their advertising mentioned “fancy groceries.”


Before psychology was introduced to advertising by JWT and others in the early 20th century, advertising was largely incentive driven, selling on price and offering premiums, items that came along with your purchase. Chief among these and popular with coffee roasters was the trading card, an idea that would be very successful with the introduction of baseball cards, first in cigarette packages and then with bubble gum. Swain, Earle & Co issues trading cards too, often with Asian themes highlighting their spice business. Over the holidays in 1880 they sent out a “Compliments of the Season” card to customers that notes: “Mr. Swain will call soon for orders.”


The company is awarded patents for “The Boston Breakfast and Lunch Cocoa,” “The Boston Broma,” and “The Boston Cracked Cocoa.”


Mr. Platt retires, and the company name is changed to Swain, Earle & Co.


Founding partner, Edward Earle, dies. Byron Thayer, who had been with the company since its founding, becomes a managing partner; but the name of the company does not change.


Swain, Earle & Co advertising notes they are the “Sole Agents for New England” for Lautz Bros. Soap and declares in other ads that their coffee is “Roasted Not Ground.”


Swain, Earle & Co is featured in the book, illustrated Boston The Metropolis of New England, which notes their building on Commercial Street occupies six stories and has 40 workers, plus 12 delivery wagon drivers.


The first ever International Women’s Suffrage Conference is held in Washington DC in February along with the 34th national meeting of the American Women Suffrage Association. Swain, Earle & Co support the meetings by taking a full-page ad on page 2 of the program. The ad features their “Boston Java” and “Silver Quarter Coffee” brands.


Ads in various publications for Silver Quarter Coffee note that “Beautiful Tumblers” are given away with the coffee, one “Free in Every Can.” The ad doesn’t mention whether the weight on the can is the weight with or without the glass tumbler.


An ad for W.T. Watson Grocers runs daily in the Thompsonville Press in Connecticut listing Silver Quarter Coffee. It sells for 25 cents a pound.


Swain, Earle & Co joins the newly formed Boston branch of “National Coffee Roasters’ Traffic and Pure Food Association. That same year SE&C add “polishing” machinery to their roasting operations.


US Government recognizes Swain, Earle & Co as “using unadulterated products, including coffee, from 1896-1914.” Founder, Theron Swain dies, leaving Byron Thayer as only surviving original employee. His death is noted in the records of the fifth annual convention for the National Coffee Roasters Association.

That same year Byron Thayer of Swain, Earle & Co (along with employees D.B. Foster and W.G. Baker) attends a meeting of the New England and New York branches of the National Coffee Roasters Association in East Providence, which includes an “Old-Fashioned Rhode Island Clambake and Other Festivities.”


Last Managing Partner, Byron Thayer, who started with the company as a bookkeeper in 1868, dies.


William H. Ukers notes in his book, All About Coffee, that Swain, Earle & Co was “among the pioneers in the coffee roasting business in Boston.” That same year, Swain, Earle & Co is “absorbed” by another Boston coffee and tea company, Alexander H. Bill & Co.

“While accomplished quietly, and the final papers being signed after the first of the year, the absorption of the old house of Swain, Earle & Co. by Alexander H. Bill & Co. is of more than ordinary moment. The former had been engaged in in the tea and coffee trade in this city for half a century. Its members had introduced a number of brands in both lines, and those for many years were well known trade marks.”


A Swain, Earle & Co retail coffee bin from late 19th century, identified as “scarce,” sells for $500 at auction.


An antique “miniature tin litho sample can” for Swain, Earle & Co’s Silver Quarter Coffee sells for $165 at auction.


An antique 2-pound tin for Swain, Earle & Co’s Boston Java Coffee, identified as “scarce,” sells for $375 at auction.

Whilst you're here are 6 reasons for making Clear Lake Coffee Roasters - CLCR - your go-to coffee roaster:

☕️ We are a local family-run business located in the heart of Clear Lake, Iowa.

☕️ We go to great lengths to find only the finest and ethically sourced coffee around, from the top 2% of coffee beans in the world.

☕️ We only source 100% certified Arabica coffee beans, carefully hand-selecting each coffee based on specific quality and taste attributes.

☕️ Our roasting process has been refined over the years and each roast profile is individually designed to complement the nuances of the coffee we source, from Cup of Excellence (COE) award-winning producers.

☕️ By roasting in smaller batches, we can ensure our coffee is ALWAYS fresh, in fact, we roast your coffee only after you place an order - the same day your order ships out.

☕️ At CLCR, we are dedicated to a single mission: the unyielding pursuit of coffee perfection in every cup.

We would give you more reasons, but rather than reading it's better if you visit our website, purchase a bag or two, and experience a unique caffeinated or half-caff journey for yourself 😊!
Explore goodness. Click. Buy. Smile.

One of USA Today's "Great American Beaches," - Clear Lake Iowa, City Park Beach, Summer 2020

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