In celebration of its 100th year of publication, Tea & Coffee Trade Journal talks with James P. Quinn, former editor and publisher.
This year the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal celebrates 100 years of publication. Now an industry standard, the monthly magazine was introduced in 1901 by William Harrison Ukers, an ambitious and headstrong young man who would make writing about coffee and tea his lifeís work. Since the magazineís premier issue rolled off the press at the turn of the 20th century, the Journal has played an important role in documenting the ever-changing nature of these dynamic, and often controversial, international industries.
Through articles, commentary and ongoing exchange, it has followed market ups and downs - in quality and price - introduced new products, reported changes and documented trends. And while reflecting the fluctuations in coffee and tea as commodities, the Journal has focused on what is required, in producing as well as consuming countries, to maintain economic survival in world trade.
In 1951, the Journalís 50th year of existence, James Quinn was hired by William Ukers to be the magazineís managing editor, replacing Dudley Taylor who left to join the staff of the National Coffee Association. Quinn had served overseas in World War II and then returned to the United States, where he used his GI bill to complete a degree from Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York. It was journalism that interested him, and he tested his mettle by being elected editor of The Quadrangle, his college newspaper. After graduation, he was convinced more than ever that he wanted to write, but his early writing assignments did not inspire him. When Ukers offered Quinn the position of managing editor at the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, he accepted the offer with the intention of staying only until he got his Ďbig break.í But soon he began to realize that he had found his niche and it motivated him to get an MBA degree from Columbia University. He continued working alongside the legendary William Ukers until 1956 when Ukers passed away and Quinn was appointed editor. In 1965, Quinn took over as publisher of the magazine. By then, he had found his passion.
I recently joined Quinn for lunch at a restaurant near his home in West Palm Beach, Florida. After selling the magazine in 1987, he retired to Florida with his wife, Maura, who for years had been both circulation and office manager at the Journal. He was anxious to get started talking about the Journal. ďIt was a different time back then, my dear,Ē Quinn began by telling me.
LRL: Was the magazine always called the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal?
JQ: First we have to start with a magazine called The Spice Mill. The Spice Mill was a house organ, as they were called then, for the Jabez Burns Company. House organs are an odd sounding name but they were in-house magazines distributed to a companyís employees and customers. Back then, they comprised a whole field of specialty publication.
Jabez Burns was a Scotsman who started manufacturing coffee-roasting machines in 1864 and became quite successful. In about 1872 his company began putting out a magazine called The Spice Mill. Ukers originally went to work for Jabez Burns, as the publicationís editor. Eventually, he became editor-in-chief.
LRL: How did The Spice Mill become Tea & Coffee?
JQ: It didnít. Ukers was an ambitious young man and thought that The Spice Mill had a greater audience as a trade magazine. Burns didnít agree. Eventually Ukers left to start his own monthly publication specifically for the coffee and tea industries, introducing the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal.
LRL: Why did Ukers choose the subjects, coffee and tea? Had The Spice Mill included coffee and tea?
JQ: I wish I knew. I donít know anyone who knew anything about The Spice Mill who is still alive. Burns & Sons was bought out by a much larger firm around 1960. Iím afraid my knowledge is not complete before the 1950s when I went to work for the Journal.
LRL: Did Burns support Ukersí move?
JQ: I donít know about initially, but the Jabez Burns Company advertised in the Journal, and they also helped to underwrite Ukersí book, All About Coffee, when he published it. By the time I got to the publication, there was a very close relationship.
LRL: It must have been a big move on Ukersí part.
JQ: Ukers was a young man when he started Tea & Coffee - under 30. He told me a number of times that when he left The Spice Mill to start his own publication, he tried to get the people at Jabez Burns to bring out their own trade publication, to transition The Spice Mill into a trade magazine. Trade magazines may have been a new thing at the time, but at any rate, Burns didnít make the change.
LRL: Did you learn a lot from Ukers?
JQ: Ukers was a capable editor. He told me many things as he remembered them - unless he could improve them!
LRL: He had an incredibly prolific career as a writer in this field.
JQ: Yes, in addition to Ukersí International Tea & Coffee Buyerís Guide, which is still published annually, he wrote the two comprehensive books about coffee & tea, All About Coffee and All About Tea. The coffee book was updated later in a second edition. In the 1930s and 1940s, he wrote a follow-up book to each, The Romance of Coffee and The Romance of Tea.
LRL: Did he travel to the tea and coffee growing countries to gather and compile his data?
JQ: Yes, when he was researching he often traveled extensively, sometimes staying a month or longer in each place. That spawned another series of books called the Little Journey Series. Each book in the series focuses on his visit to a specific producing country. There were many - one on Brazil, another on Colombia, India and Japan. Late in his life, he even attempted a work or fiction based on coffee, called Rosemary and Briar Sweet. All the other books were successful, but that one was not.
LRL: What was Ukers like as a person? Did he have a sense of humor?
JQ: If Ukers had a sense of humor, it was long lost by the time I met him. He was a very formal man and when I went to work for him, he was about 80 years old. I always addressed him as Mr. Ukers - but so did everyone else who knew him, including Sir Thomas Lipton. Even his wife called him Mr. Ukers.
Ukers used to have his name on the cover of the magazine; it read William H. Ukers, M.A. I once stupidly asked him what university he had graduated from. Well, the M.A. was an honorary degree from Philadelphia High School where he had been an honor student. He had never gone to college. He explained at some length why a municipal high school gave honorary degrees.
LRL: Did Mr. Ukers enjoy telling stories about the past?
JQ: Yes, he loved telling stories. I sympathize with him more now than I did then. I was young and I used to think of him as being a little long on discourse. I had a lot of work to do and he wanted to take up my time telling me stories about the past. We sometimes had 10 hour work days, so you can see we spent a lot of time together.
LRL: What was the most interesting story he told you?
JQ: The most interesting story is the one he didnít tell. I knew he had married his secretary, Helen DeGraff. He told me that he and Mrs. Ukers were determined at the outset to make this venture a success so they never had any children - and they devoted themselves to their continuing work with the magazine and all his other projects. But Ukers never mentioned to me that this was a second marriage, that there was a previous Mrs. Ukers. I had never thought to raise the question and he never mentioned it.
LRL: When did Ukers pass away?
JQ: He died in 1956, two years after his wife, Helen. She had been executive vice president and her nephew, John Phillips, had joined the staff in 1949. Afterward, Phillips remained on as our president and Oliver Simmons, who had been the advertising manager for more than 40 years, took over as publisher. I was named editor. We continued to have yearly meetings of the stockholders, which was overseen by the lawyers for the estate.
In 1965, John Phillips passed away. By then, Ukersí attorneys, members of a first class New York law firm, had little time to devote to a small trade publication for which they were legally responsible. They offered me a generous stock arrangement and appointed me editor and publisher. But by then, the credibility of the Journal, along with its monthly income, had hit an all-time low. At that time, jobs in the publishing industry were plentiful, making it hard for us to attract good talent to a small publishing company.
LRL: Sounds like you had plenty to do to keep it afloat.
JQ: It was also difficult to attract the competent sales staff vital to our survival. But we managed with the help of some good people. Sharon Polansky put a new spark in the Journal as managing editor, as did Helane Braxsmyer, who showed the tea and coffee trade what a first class editor can do for an ailing 65-year-old publishing company.