Tags: | | |
POSTED: July 2, 2021

Yesterday we did some tidying and rearranging in Sundö. As a result some things surfaced, and among these we found a tin labelled Mazawattee Tea. Neither of us could remember where the tin came from, and neither of us knew anything about Mazawattee Tea.

One quick visit to Wikipedia later, and we knew that “The Mazawattee Tea Company, founded in 1887 by the Densham family, was one of the most important and most advertised tea firms in Britain during the late 19th century”.

The company had a lot of interesting history including the right sort of scandals for a historical drama. These involved “secret drinking”, and a failed attempt to branch out into cocoa. What’s more>:

McQuitty and another director, John McClean, started a major change in policy, possibly trying to emulate other tea merchants that had also become successful retailers: they persuaded John Lane’s brother Benjamin that the way ahead was to open Mazawattee retail shops. They lost no time began to open café-type saloons selling packet tea as a sideline. There was no proper control and they went ahead in a kind of frenzy. The shops were splendid places with colourful tiles and plenty of mahogany fitments – £10,000 was absorbed by one shop alone (about £400,000 in 2009 terms).

The rather odd name and the even odder illustration has its own story:

The death of John Boon Densham at the age of 72 at his home in Croydon in 1886 ended the first period of the firm’s growth. John Lane Densham was immediately made a partner and tackled the problem of the firm. He decided to supply its tea in packets to retailers and in a different way by inventing a name for the firm. Being a great advocate of advertising, he reckoned that something quite unusual might be the answer and went to the Guildhall Library to get ideas.

He came up with the idea of using the word “Mazathawattee”, perhaps based on the Hindi “maza”, which means “pleasure or fun”, and the Sinhalese “wattee”, which means “a garden”. This was shortened to “Mazawattee” and duly registered as a trademark for retail sales in January 1887. This was merely a start for he then had the idea of using a standard photo to advertise the brand. It is to many modern eyes a rather gloomy thing showing an aged, bespectacled and somewhat toothless grandmother with her supposed granddaughter and the compulsory cup of tea.

What’s more…

One further piece of historically interesting information. John Horniman “invented” packet tea in a way that neatly parallels twenty first century innovation. He persuaded the public that they could not trust traditional tea merchants (who sold their tea straight from barrels) but should buy pre-packed Horniman tea which had no cheap substitutes.

In other words, he inserted himself into a distribution chain by adding a step that arguable did not need adding. Just like UberEats delivering Big Macs in fact.