Alexander Wellmann, a Merchant from Stettin

In 1850 a letter from Alexander Wellmann, a merchant from Stettin to George Traill, M.P. a member of the Board was published in the Annual Report. The letter is concerned with the importance of the Brand on the Continent, and gives an insight into the way in which business was carried out there. Mr Wellmann starts by stating: ‘the official Brand of Scotch Crown and Full Branded Herrings obtains the greatest confidence, not only in our market but also in the interior of Germany, and my firm belief, and also that of other people engaged in this branch of business is, that it would be injurious to Business should the Brand cease to exist, for Scotch herrings are only sold in small quantities in this market and the neighbourhood; they are chiefly sent great distances of from 100 to 800 miles English into the interior of Germany and Poland…’ 1

Mr. Wellmann explains that the herring are transported to the interior by vessels which often take six to eight weeks to arrive. They are sent for a price agreed at the point of sale. The danger for the dealer on the coast is that if the price should fall while the goods are in transit then the dealer in the interior might use a complaint about the quality of the product to cover his loss. The reliability of the Brand prevents him from doing so. The popularity of Scottish herrings is illustrated by the following statistics for Stettin:

Barrels imported
1834 1850
Dutch 4,546 568
Norwegian 53,891 12,507
Scottish 19,000 116,538

He identifies a preference for Scottish herring if it is on a price-par with Norwegian herring. Dutch herring, on the other hand, tends to be more expensive.

The letter gives us an insight into the market: ‘…herrings are a substitute for meat and have therefore to stand a competition in price with that of provision, as Beef, Bacon, &c in the interior of the country. The first few shipments of Scotch unbranded Herrings are only consumed by the richer class of people in Germany, whilst Crown and Full Branded Scotch Herrings are purchased by all classes.’ In the letter, Mr. Wellmann expresses the hope that if the Brand is retained and tariffs are reduced then it might be possible to do more trade with outer countries. He goes on to give a summary of tariffs per barrel of Scottish herring for most European countries, carrying out exchange rate conversions as appropriate. His results are best expressed in tabular form:

Tariff per barrel
Country/Region Per. Barrel Notes
Zollverein 3/-
Austria 15/-
Russia 4/6 Russia only charge 1/3 for Norwegian herring
Poland 4/6
France 37/- to 40/-
Belgium,Naples 12/- to 15/-
Spain, Portugal Import not allowed

In addition there are also state transit charges to be considered:

Transit charge per barrel
Country/Region River(s) Charge
Russia Oder,Vistula 1/-
Russia Elbe twopence-halfpenny
Holland Rhine 3/-
Denmark (The Sound) threepence
Hanover Elbe A halfpenny

At the end of the letter Mr. Wellmann requests that the pining period, should be reduced from fifteen to ten days in order to enable larger quantities to be shipped to the interior before winter sets in.

The publication of this letter was clearly an attempt to inform the trade of the importance of the Brand on the Continental market. It was all too easy for fishcurers in remote corners of Scotland to forget that they were engaged in an international trade with implications for them far beyond their borders. While the letter does not give any indication of the places in the interior to which the herring were transported, at least we learn something about consumer tastes. The unbranded herrings he refers to were mostly Matjes which were shipped from the West Coast of Scotland early in the season. These early fish were exempted from branding and sold at a premium price to be eaten with spring vegetables. The request for the reduction in the pining period indicates the constraints under which the merchants were operating due to the harsher climate prevalent on the Continent, which would cause the rivers to freeze over.

1. Report by the Commissioners for the British Fisheries 1850 p.25