Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Speaking of Spices

William H. Bovee Pioneer Coffee and Spice Merchant

Born in New York City, William H. Bovee moved after graduation to Sandusky, Ohio to work as a clerk in his uncle's boot and shoe shop.  There he married Elizabeth Marshall when he was 19 years old. 

Leaving Ohio he returned to New York and worked at Hope Mills, one of the leading coffee and spice companies. Bovee left New York on January 12, 1849 to join the gold rush. After traveling as a young man to California during the gold rush, Bovee opened the first coffee roasting plant in San Francisco, The Pioneer Steam & Coffee Spice Mill Company. One of his employees was Jim Folger who later founded Folger's Coffee. In 1859 William Bovee sold the company to Jim Folger

Bovee advertisement from the Daily Alta California June 1851
In the fall of 1849, the Folger family sent James and his two older brothers to the West Coast to mine for gold. The Folger family had enough money to pay for their passage to San Francisco, but was unable to provide enough money for all three boys to travel from there to the mining towns. Therefore 15-year-old James remained in San Francisco to work for his travel costs while his older brothers proceeded to the mines.
Although commercially roasted coffee was available in New York shortly before the beginning of the 19th century, it was still a luxury for big-city dwellers and was entirely unknown to the population at large. As for ground coffee, it was unheard of at the wholesale level.
In 1850, a 27-year-old entrepreneur named William H. Bovee was looking for a carpenter to build his first mill in San Francisco, which he called The Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills. Because James was skilled in carpentry, Bovee hired him to erect the mill.
Prior to The Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills, Californians purchased green coffee beans, which they roasted and ground in their homes. Bovee saw an opportunity and inaugurated the production of coffee ready for the pot: roasted, ground, packaged in small tins, and identified by the Pioneer labels.
After working at Bovee's mill for nearly a year, James had saved enough money to stake a claim and headed out to mine for gold. He agreed to carry along samples of coffee and spices, taking orders from grocery stores in the mining country until he arrived in a town called Yankee Jim's in 1851.
Upon his return to San Francisco in 1865, James became a full partner of The Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills. In 1872, James bought out the other partners, renaming the company J.A. Folger & Co
As for William Bovee he lost his fortune in a Calaveras County mine. Bovee died of marasmus ( chronic undernourishment ) and is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery  in Oakland California.
The Bovee spice shaped bottle is probably the earliest embossed western distributed food bottle and a great one to add to your gold rush or western food collection!
Got one Max?

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