Messrs Lipman & Co.
Lipman and Co. were international linen and jute commission agents and merchants, providing both raw materials and made up cloth. Their first office was in Dundee in 1844 and then expanded to Hamburg, New York, Glasgow, Chicago, Gratz, Carelshaven and Belfast.
Subscription value in 1863:
Relative to inflation up to 2023:
Relative to income compared to 2023:
Details and history
Name of company:
Messrs Lipman & Co.
Number of employees:
90 in Dundee in 1884 and unknown number worldwide
Nature of business:
Merchants / Commission Agents
Substantial: when the firm failed, it had debts of £200,000-£300,000
Date ceased trading:
The Beginnings of the Lipman Empire
Whilst there was no official synagogue in Dundee until the 1870s, there were Jewish people living and working within the heart of the town’s social and business community for many years before that.
Isaac Lipman established a firm of Commission Agents in Dundee in 1844. Lipman was born in Hamburg, the second child of Hirsch Lipman and his wife Zirze Bloch.
By 1844, he had entered into a partnership with Ludovich Hamel at 17 Cowgate and the firm became known as ‘Lipman and Hamel.’ This was a short lived partnership, with Hamel entering the Glasgow textile trade and Lipman remaining in Dundee.
Sometime before 1849, Lipman returned to Hamburg to marry Ida Rothschild and their first child, Cecilia, was born in Dundee that year. The name ‘Rothschild’ is universally known because of the Rothschild banking empire but there appears to be no direct link to Ida Lipman. However, from his marriage onwards, there is no doubt that Isaac prospered. By 1850, Lipman and Co. employed Ida’s brother, Julius Rothschild, in Dundee and the Lipmans had two further children in the city, Bertha in 1851 and Ernest Bernhard in 1856.
By 1856, his sister’s son, David Hildesheim, had joined him in Dundee. The first mention of his name in the local press is in a list of donations of objects to the Watt Institute’s museum. He gave a silver Bernadotte medal, modelled with a bust of Carl XIV of Sweden. Hildesheim lodged at 5 Strawberry Bank, with Jane Miln, a writer’s widow. Born in 1833 to Franz Siegmund Hildesheim and his wife Theresa Lipman, two of his brothers, Herman and John, would also become involved in Lipman and Co., outwith Dundee.
In 1858, Isaac Lipman and family returned to Hamburg, selling the entire contents of their home, which perhaps infers they had already set up home in Germany. The description of the goods sold shows the kind of lifestyle that the family were used to, with much mahogany and upholstered furniture, two pianos (one of which was valued at 80 guineas) and a garden bower.
David Hildesheim and Dundee Society
So, it is to David Hildesheim that the Albert Institute owed its donation, he being the partner in charge of the Dundee branch of Lipman and Co. at the time of the donation. As has already been ascertained, he had already contributed to the Watt Institute, which became part of the new museum and gallery.
Like his uncle before him, David Hildesheim returned to Hamburg to marry a Jewish bride in 1861. He announced his marriage to Susette Warburgh in the Dundee Courier, which shows the extent to which he was already part of Dundee life. The couple went on to have eleven children in Dundee and took a very active part in Dundee society, attending such events at the Grand Conversazione and Ball in 1863 and a pleasure trip to Newburgh on S.S. Dalhousie, as guests of the Newcastle Steam Shipping Company in 1864. The Hildesheims were a cultured family, who were interested in the Arts in general, David making loans of paintings to exhibitions and their son Herman eventually attending the Slade School of Art.
Hildesheim was an active shareholder in the Albert Institute, attending meetings. He was also a member of the Chamber of Commerce and on the board of the Royal Infirmary. By February 1865, it was made publicly known that there would be no room for an art gallery and museum at the Albert Institute in the first wave of building. Given that Lipman and Co.’s offices were situated directly across from the proposed building and Hildesheim’s interest in both museums and art, this may have come as something of a blow.
What Lipman and Co actually did
There is a certain amount of confusion about the business Lipman and Co. were doing. In the census reports of 1861 and 1871, Hildesheim calls himself a “linen agent.“ However, it is clear that is a small part of their business. Burlaps, used for sacking, were sent to New York in quantity but they also held a large stock of gelatine and gum. One advert quotes them holding stock of: “Canvas, Damasks, Ducks, Dowlas, Hessians, Sacking and Bagging, Tarpaulin, Carpeting, Yarns” and an article states:
” The ground floor was occupied with valuable calendering machinery; the first floor with packing presses; the second floor was used as the lapping department, and the attics as a sewing factory, containing a large number of sewing machines. Enormous quantities of goods were piled throughout the works and consisted of heavy and light hessians, canvas, carpets, yarns, &c.”
They were taking substantial quantities of goods from Don Brothers at Forfar and other firms locally, in Fife, Dundee and Forfar on a commission basis. To use a modern expression they were ‘over stretching themselves.’
In 1881, with predictable foresight, David Hildesheim retired from the business. Jute was not producing the easy fortunes it had in the beginning and the New World had become more established and had begun to manufacture in its own right. It is easy not to suspect the extent to which he had guessed what would happen next.
The partnership between Isaac Lipman and Malta Wulf in Hamburg and David Hildesheim in London was finally dissolved in 1882, with Lipman and Wulf continuing the business.
Lighting the Albert Institute with Lipman and co.
Edward Friedlander had entered the firm of Lipman and Co. at some point during the 1870s. Born in Hamburg about 1848, he married in London and then entered business in Dundee. He seems to have managed to avoid the census of 1871, but appears in 1881 and the directories have him listed as having lived at 5 Airlie Terrace in 1874 and by 1876 at Quarry or Kingoodie House. Friedlander was constantly on the move, living at a series of ever grander houses.
Despite failing to make the subscription payment, the Albert Institute must have been delighted to be close neighbours of Lipman and Co. in January 1883. Electric lighting was a new idea in 1883, the first home in the UK to have electricity was only finished in 1878, Edison only demonstrated his electric light bulb in 1879 in the USA and electric street lighting didn’t reach Dundee until 1938.
“As already announced, the Picture Galleries are to be open to-day, and during the holidays, continuously from 11 a.m. to 9.30 p.m., and special arrangements have been made to have the electric light on early every afternoon. Whilst the electric lighting of the galleries during the present Exhibition has been widely praised for its efficiency, and pronounced by experienced judges to be one of the most successful attempts yet made to use the light in a large public institution, not merely as experiment for evening or two, but continuously for months, it is perhaps not generally understood that large portion of the credit of this success is due to Messrs Lipman & Co., who, in the most generous manner, gave the Committee the free use of the powerful engine of their Meadowside Calender. This has been done at very considerable inconvenience to themselves, quite prevents work being done after six o’clock, a very frequent occurrence in calendering works. To Mr E. Friedlander, the resident managing partner of the firm, the thanks of the Committee and the frequenters of the galleries are due, for his public-spiritedness in placing an engine, with such ample reserve power, at the disposal of the Northern Electric Company, and thus securing success, previous attempts to light the galleries with the electric light having been comparative failures, from the weakness and unsteadiness of the motive power.”
The novel idea of lighting the galleries must have proved as much of a must see exhibition as the paintings themselves.
The Beginning of the End
In 1883, David Hildesheim made a large loan to his brother, Herman, in March, on the understanding it was repaid by that December. Isaac Lipman died on the 4th April 1884, in Hamburg. Later in 1884, Wulf retired and Isaac’s son Ernest, now known as Ernst, and Edward Friedland became partners. Herman did not repay the loan and in 1885, joined Lipman and Co. Lipman and Co. was then to be run by different people and, seemingly, in a rather different manner.
Edward Friedland was a man of expensive tastes, as was Herman Hildesheim, who had been in business in his own right in Manchester since 1880, but receiving a great deal of business from Lipman and Co.
The First Dundee Fire
On 25th August 1885, Lipman and Co. spectacularly burnt down.
“The whole calendering work has been reduced to mass ruins, and nothing stands but the gutted walls. It is estimated that the loss will be at least £20,000, but it is covered by insurance, chiefly with the Mutual, Liverpool, and Globe Insurance Companies.”
Rather oddly, the insurance company paid out, the warehouse and stock remained unharmed and the business continued.
A Spectacular Bankruptcy
There seemed little warning of what was coming, but on the 12th of December 1892, Lipman sent out a letter to their creditors advising they could not pay their debts. It seems to have come as a surprise that the various rumours which had been circulating about the failure of an anonymous Dundee firm, had been about Lipman and Co. It was said to be the “most serious to have occurred in Dundee for more than twenty years” and their liabilities were around £300, 000.”
Friedlander was subjected to long court interrogations as the lawyers found holes in every aspect of Lipman and Co.’s business. It would appear that he had been led to expect a healthy business when he became a partner.
“When he (bankrupt) entered the firm he did with his eyes open, and thought he knew how the firm stood, having seen the balance-sheet for the previous year. The year he joined Malta Wulff’s capital had not been paid out. The capital in the firm of 1884 was as follows Wulff, £62,245 IGS 6d ; Mr Isaac Lipman, £38,178 14s; and from a private book which Mr Lipman showed him at the time his capital appeared to £75,000, the difference being in his wife’s name, and having reference to some other family accounts. On Ist of Jan., 1884, £20,000 of Isaac Lipman’s capital was transferred to Ernest Lipman’s account. That did not increase the capital, but merely distributed it between father and son. He (bankrupt) had no capital when he entered the business, and, while he did not know of its debts and liabilities, he thought the firm was solvent, believing Mr Lipman’s statement that he had £75,000 of capital, and that Mr Wulff had £20,000.”
During the bankruptcy proceedings against the partners, it was discovered that Herman Hildesheim’s Manchester manager, Moritz Beyfus, had:
“never been in business on his own account, had been manager for many years for Messrs. Herman Hildesheim and Co., shipping merchants, on a salary of £500 a year. Until Messrs. Hildesheim failed he did not expect they would insist upon the repayment of the £2,000 he bad overdrawn from them.”
His idea that it was acceptable to simply take what was needed from your employer was not unique within Lipman and Co. Friedlander was guaranteed a salary of £1000 pa. but firms controlling the bankruptcy discovered a quite different state of affairs. He had, not unlike the Manchester manager, been paying himself far more.
“Last year you drew upwards of £5000 from the business? Bankrupt—Yes. Q. Why did you require so much money? A. Because I had a lot of extra expenses last year. I built a house which cost me beyond the sum I borrowed it. I had also to buy new furniture, and the house was not ready so soon as I expected I had to stay in lodgings for six months. Thornton—But that would not amount to anything like £5000. What did you with that large sum of money? Your creditors are anxious to know. Bankrupt—The extra expenditure on the house amounted to £700; furniture, £800 ; household expenses, about £1500; and I also lost on some American bonds that I bought at the beginning of the year.”
In essence, the firm had been living on borrowed time and bills of promise and the partners had been borrowing money and making many promises. The case against the individuals and the firm continued until 1897:
“A final dividend of per £1 was paid by David Myles, accountant, Dundee, to-day on the estate of Lipman & Co., merchants. This makes the total dividend paid ls 4d per £1. A first and final dividend of four-ninths of a penny per £1 was also paid on the estate of Edward Friedlander, a partner of the firm of Lipman & Co.”
The Second Fire and the Albert Institute
Despite losing his newly built home and its contents, Friedlander found a way to keep a part of the Lipman and Co. business.
“Mr Edward Friedlander, of the firm of Messrs Lipman & Co., now in bankruptcy, has, we understand, taken the calender formerly occupied by that firm, and intends to conduct it as such. We also learn that the owners of several other large calenders in the city had been in negotiation with the object of securing a joint lease of the calender, so to be in a position to regulate their prices by keeping another party from competing.
Considering his lack of capital and the danger the bankruptcy presented to other Dundee businesses, his method of funding this new venture is unclear.
However, the firm was constantly battling strikes and it proved very difficult to stay in business. In 1912, the calender burned to the ground in an even more spectacular way than before. It is not possible to ascertain how badly the business had been going before the fire, but there were a number of coincidences such as “the books, which had been left outside the safe, had all been consumed.” Again, the insurance company paid out.
“The damage is estimated at fully £40,000, but is fully covered by insurance. The stock alone is valued at from £25,000 to £50,000. It consisted principally of Calcutta gunnies and the finished article—Hessian cloth. Fortunately a large quantity had been despatched few days ago. The machinery insured at about £2000, while the buildings, which are the property of tho Dundee Central Property Investment Company, arc valued at £12,000.“
The close proximity to houses and other businesses and, of course, the Albert Institute made battling the flames very difficult.
” Art Treasures in Danger. Robert Scott’s fine art saloon, which is situated at the west side of the main doorway of the calender, appeared at the mercy of the flames. Mr Scott’s back saloon extends right up to the calender, and only a wall was between a valuable collection of objets d’art and the fiery furnace. Fortunately the flames did not gain access to the saloon, but the heat shattered the rooflights. A number of Mr Scott’s employees arrived at the scene. Placing handkerchiefs to their mouths, they battled against the smoke and removed a number of valuable pictures and other articles to place of safety. Only by close inspection in daylight can it be ascertained whether Scott’s stock has escaped injury. The fire staff of the Albert Institute ‘were ready for any emergency’. They ran out their lines of hose and played water on the roof of the Institute, which was within the range of the intense heat.”
Friedlander stayed in Dundee until the December of 1912 and then left to live in South Africa. In an address at the Chamber of Commerce, the Chairman paid the somewhat odd compliment to Edward Friedlander: “The firm with which Mr Friedlander was connected was not the least respected in the city” In return, Friedlander replied that: “the disastrous fire had made it necessary for him to leave Dundee was perhaps a blessing disguise.”
No doubt the curators and librarians of the Albert Institute heaved a sigh of relief as they gazed at the charred remains of Lipman and Co. and waved goodbye to their long term neighbour, having survived some strange adventures with electricity and at least two endangering fires. There was a phrase in Dundee often used in connection with the jute trade “three fires and a failure,” so perhaps Lipman did not so badly.
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