Champagne has been the drink of parties and celebration since the 18th century and a lot of it was consummed in Old Shanghai. In 1934, about 42.000 bottles of French Champagne where imported in China, mostly through Shanghai port.
Champagne was served in the many private parties organised then. It is public knowledge that Champagne was flowing freely at Victor Sassoon’s party. Drinking Champagne at a wealthy Chinese mansion in Shanghai is mentionned in “Shanghai secrets” by Jean Fontenoy, the editor in chief of French newspaper “Le journal de Shanghai”. Champagne was also available in the numerous restaurants, bars, clubs and dancings in the city.
Above picture is the first page of the Sun Sun sky terrace wine list displayed in previous post (See post “French wines in Old Shanghai“). Lines 1 to 4 are famous Champagne brands that are again available in Shanghai today : 1 Pommery, 2 Veuve Cliquot, 3 Mumm Cordon Rouge, 4 Piper Heidsieck. Champagne was already very expensive then, as a bottle of the best Champagne was 30$, 3 times more than Chateau Lafite from Bordeaux or Corton from Burgundy. There was a real premium for sparkling wines as the cheapest on the list was more expensive than the best red wines.
Importing Champagne was a big business for a number of French companies that were the Champagne houses agents in Shanghai. French company Racine & Cie was the agent of Champagne Heidsieck mentionned above. Racine & Cie was one of the major agents for French companies in Shanghai, with its GM Jean Donné being a member of the board of the French Chamber of Commerce in 1930. Racine & Cie also imported French tinned food (See post “Vegs in a can” for more details).
Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne was imported by smaller French import company Optorg, with advertising in “Le Journal de Shanghai”. The above ad is about 14th July 1931, with the following caption : “To upstand your reputation and match the taste of yours guests, serve them Mumm”. In Shanghai as well, serving French Champagne was seen as a matter of high taste.
Although not in the Sun Sun restaurant drink list, Lanson Champagne was imported in Shanghai by British trading firme Calbeck MacGregor. Above ad is from Le Journal de Shanghai 1st January 1932.
Other sparkling wines from France were also available in China, including Loire Valley Veuve Amiot, imported by leading French trading company Olivier Chine. Above picture shows 2931 bottles to Tientsin (today Tianjin) and 3642 to Shanghai.
The previous post was about wine import in 1920-1930s Shanghai (see post French wines in Old Shanghai for details). France was the largest provider for imported wine. Being orginally from Burgundy, I did some research into this specific region that was then famous for its wines and is even more famous today.
Burgundy wines where famous among the elite in 1920s and 1930s Shanghai. The most famous person drinking Burgundy wine was surely Sir Victor Sassoon, owner of the Sassoon house hosting the World famous Cathay hotel and many other buildings in Shanghai. Sir Victor Sassoon wrote a journal and during a trip to France on 2nd August 1934, he had diner as leading Paris restaurant La Tour d’Argent where he was served Clos Vougeot 1925. He must have really liked it as it ordered 24 bottles of it and probably took them to Shanghai.
As shown in previous post, 1939 wine list of famous Sun sun department store Sky Terrace included Burgundy whites such as Chablis 1929, Meursault 1923 (with a spelling mistake) and Pouilly-Fuissé. Burgundy red were Pommard 1929, Corton 1929 and Macon 1929. It has to be noticed that 10 years old wines were sold and served in restaurants. Even the Burgundy white table wine was from 1933, i.e. 6 years old. Burgundy wines at that time were kept for years before being drunk. Although they still can be kept for decades is properly stored, they are often drunk much younger now. It is noticeable that Burgundy wines were more expensive than Bordeaux at that time in Shanghai.
Some Burgundy houses tried to get into the Asian market using the French colonies as a springboard in the early 1920s until the mid 1930s. While Indochina (today Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) was the largest area controlled by French in Asia, China with its large population was the main target. In a way similar to today, wine houses had agents in Shanghai that would purchase the wines and resell it being both importers and distributors.
French wine in bottles was mostly handled by French people. Just like today, major trading companies imported wines in their portfolio. Above picture shows an add for wine from Dufouleur, a wine house in Nuits-Saint-Georges that is still making wines today. Their wines were imported and distributed by Racine & Cie, one of the major French trading company in Shanghai that also advertised for imported canned vegetables (see post Vegs in a can for further details).
In the same way, smaller import company Rondon was the sole agent for large wine maker and trader, or “négociant” in French, Bouchard Ainé. They already had large range of Burgundy wines imported in Shanghai by agents L. Rondon & Co. Now property of Burgundy wine power house Jean-Claude Boisset, Bouchard Ainé has been back in today’s China since the early 2000.
Trading company Hirsbrunner was the importer of négociant Jules Regnier. Their ads in the press were more interesting than an simple list of wines as they also tried to link their wines with history. The bottled displayed were Grand Chambertin and sparking Burgundy. Jules Régnier & Co does not exist anymore, but I found a picture of their cellar and heaquarters in Dijon.
Burgundy wine history was studied in depth by French scholar Christophe Lucand, who is also the Mayor of Gevrey-Chambertin, one the famous Burgundy village and my home town. While Indochina (today Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) was the largest area controlled by French in Asia, China with its large number of people was the main target. Just like many other manufacturers in Europe and the US, Burgundy winemakers dreamed of having millions of Chinese drinking their wines sending back huge profit. Burgundy wine makers where by far not the only ones having this dream and similar stories are told in fantastic Carl Crow’s book “400 customers”.
Converting large number of Chinese to drink wine was a complete failure and the effort to bring Burgundy wine to China ended in the mid 1930s. Still, foreigners in China’s concession as well as elite Chinese seemed to have enjoyed those wines a lot. It took another 90 years for Burgundy wines to become famous in China, where they now are the darling of wine lovers imported by numerous trading companies.
Foreigners who built Shanghai brought their drinking habits with them. Chinese people had been drinking various kind of rice alcohol for centuries, but foreigners brought new kinds of alcoholic drinks. Beer, Gin, Whisky came in as well as wine. Pictures of the Ruan Lingyu “love & Duty” showed wine and Brandy being served and drunk in 1930s Shanghai (see post “Love and Duty” for more details). This is also visible on below wine list of the Sun Sun department store sky terrace, one of the fashionnable restaurant in the 1930s.
Wine import in China in the 1930s was quite a big business, as shown in yearly customs report “The Trade of China”. This gives significant statistics and data about import in China. Details are provided on alcoholic drinks in various categories. I looked at the 1933 and 1934 statistics.
Champagne is the first wine listed in the statistics. 33 986 liters of Champagne were imported in 1933, and 36 551 liters in 1934. Of this, 77% was from France in 1933 and 86% in 1934. At that time, the name of Champagne was not yet protected so Champagne could be made out of the French Champagne region. Other countries included Italy and Great Britain (probably re-exporting). Unsprisingly, about 2/3 of the import went through Shanghai Port, 1/3 through Tianjin Port.
The next category is “Still Wines, in bottles”. Red or whites were unfortunately not separated. Just like today, this was surely the most expensives wines that were transported bottled. 46 085 litters were imported in 1933 and 38 323 in 1934. Out of this, France had 54% in 1933 and 41% in 1934. Second place was Germany with 20% in 1933 and 25% in 1934, that was probably all white wine. Italy came third with 10% in 1933 and 19% in 1934. Main port of entries were Shanghai with 62% and Tianjin 17%. Mengtsz came in with 12%. Since the city was the main place for France in South Yunnan, it was surely import from French Indochina transported on the famous French Yunnan railways.
The last category is “Still Wines, in bulk”. Lower quality wines were transported bulk to be bottled locally. In 1933, 677 289 liters of wine were imported in bulk, in `1934 896 739. This is 14.75 times more than import of bottles in 1933 and 23.44 more times in 1934. France was the leader in the market with 46% market share in 1933, and a stagering 85% in 1934. The country faced massive overproduction of wine in those years and took action to massively export its surplus. Spain was second with 43% in 1933, and a market sharply reducing to 7% in 1934. Italy was third with 13% in 1933 and 4.8% in 1934. Other countries Chile, Egypt, Germany, UK, Greece, Japan, Palestine and Portugal.
Just like today, wine was a major export for France. When wine consumption was mostly in Shanghai in the 1930s, it has now grown all over China and import volumes are counted in hundreds of million of litters. Still the first country of origin for wine import in 2019 was France with 30%. Followed Australia, where winemaking was still in its beginning in the 1930s, with 26%. Third came Chile with 16%, then Spain with 11% and Italy with 6%. Just like in the 1930s, imported wine in Shanghai today is mostly from France.
The cross of North-South and the Yanan elevated motorway is the center of Shanghai. Its construction in the 1990s was a major construction work. Although it was a major step in the city modernity, it came along with the destruction of many beautiful building on the main road of the former French Concession, l’Avenue Dubail.
This video made in collaboration with Augustin Vouilloux shows the beauty of the architecture and a few pictures of the lost beauty of old buildings.
After having published latest post on Hugh Martin, “Letter from Hugh Martin“, a lawyer friend in Hong Kong offered to find the corporate registration file of “Noel, Murray & Co Ltd” in Hong Kong, 瑞和有限公司 in Chinese. This prove to be a very valuable source of information about the company and Hugh Martin, including a copy of his actual signature.
In the incorporation documents from 1938, it is very clearly stated that the new company in Hong Kong will take over the activity and business of Noel, Murray and Company carried on in Shanghai. This was only a change in the legal set up, as “The Registered Office of the Company will be situated in Shanghai”. The change took place in 1938, about 1 year after the invasion of Shanghai by the Japanese forces. At that time, the International Settlement where Noel, Murray & Co operated was surrounded by the Japanses forces with part of the International Settlement actually occupied by the Japanese forces. The French Concession, where Hugh Martin lived was under the same circumstances. The situation in Shanghai was extremely tensed and would become even worse in the years later. Moving the business to the British colony of Hong Kong was surely a protective move.
Although, the new company was registered in Hong Kong, Hugh Martin and his partners did not have to go in person. The incorporation process was conducted by their law firm, Platt, White-Cooper & Co, 83 Peking Road, Shanghai. The actual sollicitor was Header Harris, a British lawyet at this firm. Documents where submitted at the British Consulate for certification on 21st April 1938.
The directors were among the shareholders. Hugh Martin, AP Nazer and John Lanson a Chinese person who was probably the comprador of the company at that time. Hugh Martin and AP Nazer list their adress as 160 Canton Road, the registered office of Noel Murray & Co Ltd.
There were 5 shareholders, Hugh Martin and John Lanson held 24% each, with AP Nazer holding 2%. 2 other Chinese people held 40% and 10%, no information is available about them.
Since Hugh Martin was the managing director of the company, he signed the incorporation documents so I could get a real picture of his signature. The incoporation files also contained a copy of the company letter head paper, which is exactly like the one in post “Letter from Hugh Martin“, so these papers must be from 1938.
The company was closed down in 1952 by Hong Kong authorities as they did not receive answer on several legal requests. It probably had not more activity by then, as Hugh Martin had gone back to the UK in 1947. In 1949, the Chinese Communist party took control of China and foreign companies started to disappear quickly. Noel, Murray and Co had surely no more business in Shanghai by then and they did not not seem to have started an actual business in Hong Kong to replace it.
This is the 5th post about Hugh Martin and Noel, Murray & Co in Shanghai. To read the thread from the beginning, go to post “Hugh Martin grave in Shanghai“.
Hugh Martin was a noticeable character of Old Shanghai. I heard about him by random and have been fascinated by him partly due to our similar names. This is the 4th post about him. If you have not read the thread before, first go to starting post “Hugh Martin’s grave in Shanghai“.
Over the years, I have accumulated many artefacts from or about Old Shanghai. I was recently reviewing some documents I did not look at for many years. I recently realized that long before writing the first post about Hugh Martin, our paths already crossed. Many years ago I bought some original stationary from the company “Noel, Murray and Co”, with Hugh Martin listed as a director (see below). I did not remember it before running into those papers recently, but motivation for purchase was surely the name Hugh Martin listed on the paper.
Noel, Murray & Co Ltd, was the company where Hugh Martin worked most of his time in Shanghai. It was founded in 1881 by GW Noel, who in 1889 partnered with former Jardine & Matheson employee, WC Murray. The general Chinese name is 瑞和 / Tsay Wo in Cantonese as traditionally written in the Shanghai Hong List (Rui-he in modern Chinese), sometimes written as 瑞和洋行. After incorporation into a public company aroung 1906, the official Chinese name became 瑞和有限公司 (Tsay Wo public limited company). To show that it was a Brithish firm, the mention 英商 (Ying Shang = English Shop) is added on the above document. The comprador for 瑞和was 叶琢堂, a gentleman from Ningbo was also a banker and became one of the founders of the International Saving Society.
The address written for the company is 160 Canton Road. Same adress was found in 1941 Hong List. I am not sure exactly when the company moved at this location, but surely a few years beforehand. Like many companies operating in Old Shanghai, it was actually incorporated in Hong Kong, not in Shanghai. Another director was listed, A. P. Nazer, whose own company also appears separately in the business directories.
The company activity was mentioned as “Auctioneers, shares and general broker and commission agents”. Its most public activity was to run auctions. The location on 160 Guang Dong Road was their office but also the place where the auctions took place. I only got one insert in the press about an auction from the company, but they must have been organised very regularly and widely publicised.
As the items are normally shown during and sometimes before an auction, the main salesroom must have been quite large to accomodate all thoses items. The company also had specific paper sheets given out to people when they had purchased items at auctions. Some of those papers were also with this piece of stationary (picture below).
The above auction announcement in from May 1948, with Hugh Martin still mentioned as Managing Director although he went back to England in May 1947. The current Hong Kong business register lists a company incorporated as “Noel, Murray & Co Ltd” in 1938 in Hong Kong and dissolved in 1952. There must have been an earlier incorporation but probably under different provisions.
While Shanghai history is the focus of this blog, post on related locations are also added including Tianjin, Wuhan, Rangoon, Singapore, Paris, Budapest and many more. During my last business trip to Hong Kong, I visited a place that had lot of echoes from Old Shanghai.
The Peak Cafe is located along the Lang Kwai Fong escalator. In the middle of the city, very close to the super modern skyscrapers, this place is a little bit of Old Hong Kong. Opened in 1947, it still has the feeling of Old time. The interior is surely not older than 1947 but it definitely feels much more like the 1920s or 1930s.
Although Hong Kong has kept very little of its history, with exception of the former jail and police station close by, this little spot feels like time travel to Old Hong Kong, or to Old Shanghai.
Peak Café: 9-13 Shelley street, Central, Hong Kong
AI chatbot ChatGPT has been a lot in the news recently. As I wanted to try it out, I asked him to “write about the life of Hugues Martin in Shanghai”. The result is below text. Although it’s totaly fake, it kind of really pleased me that the bot imagined the life of an Old Shanghai version of myself.
Hugues Martin was a prominent figure in the expat community in Shanghai in the early 20th century. He was a French architect who played a significant role in the development of the city’s iconic buildings, such as the Park Hotel, the Cathay Hotel, and the Grand Theatre. Martin was born in France in 1887 and trained at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He arrived in Shanghai in 1919 and quickly established himself as one of the city’s top architects. His designs were influenced by the Art Deco movement, which was popular at the time. One of Martin’s most significant contributions to the city was his work on the Park Hotel. The hotel was built in 1934 and was the tallest building in Asia at the time. Martin’s design incorporated elements of Chinese architecture and featured a rooftop ballroom with stunning views of the city.
In addition to his architectural work, Martin was also an active member of the expat community in Shanghai. He was a founding member of the French Club and the Shanghai Municipal Council, which was responsible for governing the city. He also served as the president of the French Chamber of Commerce and was a member of the Shanghai Rotary Club. Martin’s career in Shanghai came to an abrupt end in 1941 with the outbreak of World War II. He was interned by the Japanese and spent the duration of the war in a prison camp. After the war, Martin returned to France, where he continued to work as an architect until his death in 1964. Today, Hugues Martin’s legacy can be seen in the many buildings he designed that still stand in Shanghai. His work has been recognized as an important part of the city’s architectural history, and he is remembered as a key figure in the development of Shanghai’s skyline.
The 1931 movie “Love and Duty” （恋爱与义务）was a great success in 1930s Shanghai. It was the first big movie with actress Ruang Linguy who would become the superstar of Shanghai cinema, until her suicide in 1935. I have written several posts about some of the location where the movie was made in Shanghai (see post “Love and Duty” for more details). This post is showing the video that was made of the location search.
You will find more information about Ruan Lingyu, the movie “Love and Duty” and film locations in posts “Love and Duty” Part 1 and 2.