Mystery of Samuel Pepys’ Tea Discovery Remains Unsolved After 200 Years

A 34-piece David Clayton George I miniature silver tea service, London, circa 1720, sold for $11,250 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

“And afterwards I did send for a cup of tea (a China drink) of which I never drank before, and went away.” – Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday, 25 September, 1660

By Jim O’Neal

In 1812, Scottish historian David Macpherson (The History of European Commerce with India) quoted the above tea-drinking passage from Samuel Pepys’ diary.

It’s the first record of an Englishman drinking tea.

This was an extraordinary thing to do, primarily because in 1812, Pepys’ diaries were still unknown! Although they resided in the Bodleian Library, the main research library of the University of Oxford – and had been available for inspection – no one had ever looked into them.

Or so it was thought.

Even if someone had taken a peek, they were written in a private code that had never been deciphered. How Macpherson managed to find and translate this passage, from six volumes of dense and secret scribbling, is beyond knowing. Not to mention what inspired him to look there in the first place.

Pepys (1633-1703) was born in London. He went to Cambridge, where he attended Trinity Hall and then earned a degree from Magdalen College. Not long after, he was employed as a secretary in London by Sir Edward Montagu, the 1st Earl of Sandwich.

He started his diary on Jan. 1, 1660, and continued it until 1669. It is through Pepys’ eyes that we have a remarkable view of everyday life in the middle of the 17th century. This is a highly unique first-person account of the Great Plague, the coronation of King Charles II, the Second Anglo-Dutch War, and the Great Fire of London.

Each time I think of this last event, I’m reminded of the great architect Sir Christopher Wren, who designed 52 churches, including the magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral, and his epitaph:

“Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit, but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you.” This inscription is also inscribed (in Latin) on the circle of black marble on the main floor of the dome.

So, we know who rebuilt London. Now if we could just solve the puzzle of Samuel Pepys’ diary and David Macpherson.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

1968 Was Much Lousier Than the Queen’s Annus Horribilis

The 1968 Belmont Stakes winner’s trophy presented to jockey Heliodoro Gustines for his win on Stage Door Johnny realized $28,680 at a February 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Citing a string of unpleasant events, Queen Elizabeth II in a speech on Nov. 24, 1992, labeled the year her annus horribilis.

For many in the United States, 1968 was more of a lousy year than the events that seemed to perplex Her Royal Majesty.

In Washington, D.C., the Willard Hotel, where at least seven presidents had been guests (starting with Franklin Pierce), went bankrupt.

China exploded its seventh atomic bomb in an attempt to catch up, and France did the same with its first hydrogen bomb. A U.S. Air Force B-52 crashed in Greenland, spilling radioactive materials on an expanse of ice. It was the 13th time such an accident had occurred.

In Biafra, 3 million civilians died in a war with Nigeria, many of them of basic starvation as the world stood by and did nothing.

It was that kind of year.

On Jan. 31, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam caught everyone off guard and was followed by the My Lai Massacre. LBJ decided he’d had enough and did not stand for re-election.

At the Kentucky Derby, Dancer’s Image finished first, but was disqualified after traces on phenylbutazone were discovered in the post-race urinalysis. Then, Dancer’s Image was disqualified in the Preakness for bumping. So, Forward Pass won two of racing’s Triple Crown. Dancer’s Image did not run the Belmont – won that year by Stage Door Johnny – and remains the only winner of the Derby to be disqualified.

On April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and cities across the nation rioted. On June 5, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles at the Ambassador Hotel as he was trying to follow his brother into the White House.

It was that kind of year.

The U.S. submarine Scorpion was lost at sea with 99 men, which would have been the biggest naval disaster of the year. However, it was overshadowed by the spectacular fate of another U.S. ship near North Korea.

The USS Pueblo was labeled an environmental research ship, but was really an electronic snoop with antennas and high-tech radar. They cruised the Sea of Japan seeking signals from North Korea. On Jan. 23, the Pueblo was attacked and captured by the North Korean navy.

The news that a U.S. naval vessel had been captured – the first since the USS Chesapeake in 1807 – stunned the entire country. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk called it an act of war and senators were howling for action! Two appeals to Russia to act as a mediator were rejected and the U.N. Security Committee refused to get involved.

Finally, U.S. and North Korean negotiators got the men and Commander Lloyd M. Bucher released. But, incredibly, the USS Pueblo is now a tourist attraction in Pyongyang at the Victorious War Museum, complete with tours and a video. The U.S. State Department is still hoping for a release … 48 years later.

Annus horribilis … American style.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Paul Revere Was a Patriot – and Silversmith – Who Helped Win Our Independence

This set of six silver tablespoons made by Paul Revere sold for $83,650 at an April 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In the January 1861 issue of The Atlantic, they published a (now) well-known poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that begins:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.

It was an attempt to bolster the North’s courage and resolve on the eve of the Civil War. Longfellow hoped to illustrate how much impact individuals can have during times of dramatic, historic occasions. He used Paul Revere as an example in the hope it would inspire others as the nation stared into the abyss of war.

At the time, it was titled Paul Revere’s Ride and also known as The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere or The Landlord’s Tale; Paul Revere’s Ride. (Take your pick since HWL fictionalized the facts for poetic effect.)

Paul Revere

We do know that PR was at various times a silversmith, engraver and patriot. He was even a part-time dentist when the Boston-area economy was slow. As a militant, he was one of the “Indians” at the Boston Tea Party and probably participated in the Stamp Act Riots.

He joined the “Sons of Liberty” in 1765, acting as a courier for the revolutionary forces. The famous ride he is associated with was to alert the Colonial militia about the advancement of British forces just before the Battle of Lexington and Concord (“The shot heard around the world”). One of his personal accounts is that he yelled, “The Regulars are coming out” instead of the more familiar “The British are coming” as he dashed around alerting everyone.

He had a long commercial career in iron casting and bronze bell and cannon casting, in addition to all the silver metalwork that Boston is replete with. In fact, his extensive metal factory work led to him becoming the first American to successfully roll copper into sheets in 1800 for use as sheathing material for naval vessels.

But, thanks to Longfellow, we will always fondly remember him as a genuine patriot who helped win our independence. (Naturally, all the men from that era were in fact dead as Longfellow suggests in his famous poem.) Whether the poem had any effect on the North is doubtful. By 1861, the terrible war that cost 630,000 lives was already just a short time away, unfortunately.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].