Forth Rubber Company
This company was an interesting, but short-lived, attempt to ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’.
It was formed in 1896 with headquarters and a retail outlet at 6 George Street in the heart of Edinburgh. They sold not just clubs and balls but boxes, trunks, umbrella cases and a wide range of waterproof clothing. Like the New Yorker cartoon of the old shopkeeper standing in front of his ‘closing down sale, everything must go’ sign telling his boy, ‘One day son, all this will be yours’ the Forth Rubber Company promised remade gutta balls at 5/9d per dozen with the warning ‘this low price will not be for long maintained owing to rapid rise in gutta’. This price, and warning, seemed to persist throughout the company’s existence. The remade balls were sold under the name of The Empire which they claimed was remade from the gutta of the ‘Silvertown, Ocobo and other first class brands’.
In 1898 they placed an order for 10,000 clubs from Nicoll of Leven which prompted outraged comments in print about the (unnamed) Scottish retailer with its predatory pricing, clubs at three shillings each, from the golfing correspondent of the Manchester Courier, a grumpy sod at the best of times, railing in terms familiar to any modern Tescophobe about the demise of clubmakers and small local businesses. As they also advertised his clubs, one suspects a similar–sized order to Anderson of Anstruther.
It was clearly a recipe the golfing public liked. At the 1898 AGM the chairman, A Mackenzie Ross, said the company had been very successful from the beginning, ‘much more so than they could have anticipated’. Similarly, the following year he reported both turnover and customers nearly doubling. This AGM also heard that the company had appointed ‘a traveller to represent them in pretty nearly every place in the world where the English language was spoken’. He seems to have earned his corn. The following year a newspaper in Kangaroo Island was advertising the imminent arrival of items from the Forth Rubber Compay. And where English was not spoken? Yes, they also announced new premises in Dundee. Subsequently the Dundee outlet in Whitehall Place offered ‘Prices hitherto unheard of north of the Tay’ and, like its Edinburgh counterpart when prices seemingly could not get any cheaper, announced end of year ‘everything must go’ sales, cash-only, collect on the spot.
Yet, by 1902 an Extraordinary General Meeting of shareholders passed a resolution to wind up the company and appoint liquidators. It was not universally welcomed by the shareholders (given year on year 6 per cent dividends on preference shares and 20 per cent on ordinary shares, one can see why) and one, a grain merchant from Musselburgh, brought an action in April 1903 seeking to declare the decision invalid but this was rapidly rejected by Lord Stormonth Darling who added insult to injury by awarding expenses against him for not seeking other remedies before the Court of Session.
So, the price of The Empire finally changed. The company announced their own compulsory clearing sale in May 1903. Lumley’s, the Glasgow sports store, obviously bought a significant amount of golf balls and offered them at 5/- per dozen in the Autumn of that year with a second tranche in 1904.
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