The U.S. vs. 200 jars of Pisco: Peruvian Exporting Tradition of Pisco

[Re-print of article published on July, 2009]

Guillermo L. Toro-Lira * & Sergio Zapata Acha **

* Researcher of Peruvian relations in the history of California, resident of Sunnyvale, California gtl@mac.com; author of the book Wings of Cherubs. Author in ResearchGate
** Director of the Instituto de Investigación-EPTH-USMPszapata@turismo.usmp.edu.pe; author of Diccionario de Gastronomía Peruana Tradicional.

[Original Publication, in Spanish: Toro-Lira Stahl, Guillermo y Zapata Acha, Sergio. 2008. “Tradición Exportadora Peruana del Pisco: Los Estados Unidos vs. Doscientas Botijas de Pisco”. Boletín de Lima, N° 152. pp. 51-62. Lima, Peru.]

Summary

In the context of a documented legal event, this article contributes in illustrating the historical Peruvian exporting tradition of pisco to California, principally during the second half of the 19th century; having as protagonists the grape brandy of Peru (pisco) on one side and the United States of America in the other. It also provides information about the characteristics of manufacturing and commercialization of the product in that era.

The Story

On the 26th of December of 1863 the Peruvian bark Mandarina dropped anchor in the port of San Francisco, California. It weighed 179 tons, had a crew of 13, and its captain was F. S. Rossi, as it appears registered in the The United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, 1863). The Mandarina had sailed from the port of Callao, Peru, on October 27, 1863 (El Comercio, 1863). It is important to note that in its previous voyage this bark had touched in the port of Pisco, Ica, Peru. Aurelio García y García described Pisco in his book Derrotero de la costa del Perú published precisely in 1863 the following way:

It is the port on the coastal province of Ica, whose city is fourteen leagues away. (…) This port provides considerable exportations (…) From the different valleys and creeks of the coastal province of Ica it is extracted: grape aguardientes [brandies], in earthenware vessels: called botijas and piscos; wine in barrels; cotton in packs, beans, dates and other products in bags. [Translated from original in Spanish]

According to the sources, the Mandarinasailed on August 31st towards “Lomas,” a port located further south in Arequipa, Peru (El Comercio, 1863 a). According to the “Movimiento Marítimo” [Shipping Intelligence] consulted, the bark was still in Punta de Lomas [Point of Lomas] on October 12th (El Comercio, 1863 b). About this port, García y García noted the following:

On the N. [north] side of the point [of Lomas]so described, is located the good port of Lomas (…) The place is uninhabited, one can only see a few constructions, which are used to store the products of the farms that utilize this port for their ex- ports. These products consist of: sugar, molasses, rum, and aguardiente [brandy]. [Translated from original in Spanish](1)

Continuing with the story, when the Mandarina arrived in California, among its cargo there were 200 jars or pisquitos of pisco type Italia (distinctively aromatic), which was consigned to Nicholas Larco, a successful Italian businessman and ex- resident of Lima, Peru, who emigrated to San Francisco in the midst of the Gold Rush of 1849.(2) Much to Larco’s surprise, on December 31st, the chief of the Custom House of San Francisco, Charles James, decided to seize the shipment of pisco and libeled the Mandarina claiming violation of the United States Act of 1799, which established that the minimum volume of containers used to import distilled spirits was 90 gallons. The jars of pisco Italia contained between 3 and 4 gallons each (NARA, 1864).

Larco, who had previously imported pisco Italia in these same jars without any objection from the Custom House, voiced his complaint. The Daily Alta Californiapublished an article on January 6, 1864, entitled “Custom House Seizure” which described the seizure of the pisco and the libel of the bark Mandarina and criticized in an extensive and negative way the decision of the Custom House officials.

That same day, Charles James sent a telegram to S.P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury of the United States in Washington D.C., asking for instructions and explaining that the pisco had been previously imported to San Francisco in the same jars, but when other people were in charge of the Custom House (NARA, 1864 a).

Secretary Chase answered via telegram on January 8th instructing that the bark Mandarina be released but the shipment of pisco should be confiscated. In a later letter sent by mail, the secretary instructs that whoever broke this law in the future should have its liquor seized but not the ship, unless evidence was found that proved the importation was intentional.

The same day, James reported the seizure of the pisco to the District Attorney of San Francisco, William H. Sharp, and notified it was available for auction, as it was usually done with all the products seized by the Custom House at that time (NARA, 1864 b).

On January 27th, District Attorney Sharp filed a suit in front of Judge Odgen Hoffman U.S. District Judge of Northern California, numbered No. 161 and titled “The US vs. 200 Jars of Pisco” (NARA, 1864 c). On the same day, Sharp orders the Marshal of San Francisco, Charles W. Rand, to store the pisco until further notice (NARA, 1864 d).

Three days later, the Mandarina sailed freely from San Francisco to Hong Kong, taking $8,052 in merchandise and $20,000 in treasury (Daily Alta California, 1864).

On February 16th, Judge Hoffman decreed that the 200 jars of pisco were legally confiscated and, being now property of the U.S. Government, ordered they be auctioned by Marshal Rand (NARA, e), action that took place on March 3rd (Daily Alta California,1864 a).

Rand declared that the pisco was auctioned for $1,277.65 and sent that amount to the court on March 14th, (NARA, 1864 f). That same day, it was declared that the costs of the marshal, of the office of the court and of the district attorney were $148.73, $22.23 y $22.55 respectively, adding a total of $193.51. The marshal also reported that the commission of the auctioneer, Newhall & Co. of San Francisco, was $79.41 (NARA, g, h, i).

The next day, Nicholas Larco, represented by his attorney John Satterlee, presents to Judge Hoffman a petition requesting the reconsideration of the case and that the funds resulting from the auction not be distributed until the end of the pending trial, petition that was accepted (NARA, 1864 j). On April 12th, Judge Hoffman ordered that the expenses of the court, of the marshal and of the district attorney be paid with the proceeds of the auction (NARA, 1864 k).

On June 11th, Judge Hoffman prepared a detailed document titled “Statement of Facts” in which he describes the circumstances surrounding the seizure of the pisco and the precedents, including Larco’s petition to reconsider the issue and the signed testimony of the chief of the Custom House (NARA, 1864 l, ll). These documents were mailed to the offices of the Secretary of the Treasury in Washington D.C. for evaluation.

Two months later, on August 22nd, Mr. George Harrington, representing the Secretary of the Treasury in Washington D. C., mailed to San Francisco an order in which he stated that the seizure of pisco is revoked and that all the funds collected from the auction should be given to Larco, following his payment of all the court costs mentioned before and a fine equivalent to the import duty of the pisco in case it had not been seized (NARA, 1864 m).

The import duty charged by the Custom House was $1 per gallon of pisco. On that same day, Judge Hoffman emitted a decree following the orders from the Secretary of the Treasury in which he released Larco of any guilt and dismissed the case (NARA, 1864 n). The Custom House estimated that the total volume of the 200 jars of pisco was equivalent to 650 gallons so the fine was set to $650 (NARA, 1864 o), amount that was later reduced to $601.25 on September 10th, after a more exact measurement of the total volume of the jars was made (NARA, 1864 p).

Larco received the net amount of $483 for the 200 jars of pisco, which is equivalent to approximately $6,202 in today’s dollars (Holliday, 1999; U. S. Department Of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007), without taking into account his attorney’s fees and personal expenses. Obviously, that amount was much lower than what he could have received if the pisco had not been seized and auctioned by the Custom House authorities.(3)

The defense used by Larco during the case was that he was not aware of the mentioned Act and that the Custom House of San Francisco had previously allowed the import of pisco in the same jars for several years and without any objection (NARA, 1864 q). Judge Hoffman specifically pointed out in his Statement of Facts that the same chief of the Custom House had permitted the import of pisco in its original jars in three prior instances: one for 35 jars in October of 1862, another one for 25 jars in May of 1863 and the third one for 97 jars in December of the same year. This statement contradicted the testimony of Custom House’s chief (NARA, 1864 r).

It is possible that Charles James had decided to apply the Act of 1799 perhaps influenced by California producers of wine and liquor who in that year announced for the first time the availability of grape brandies produced locally in significant quantities (Daily Morning Call, 1864, 63).(4) Whatever it may be, the import of pisco to San Francisco in its original jars continued well into the 20th century. (Kunkel, 2001).

Regardless of any competitive commercial scenario that could have confronted Larco in 1864, the documentation of the suit “The U.S. vs. 200 Jars of Pisco” reveals legal historical evidence that is irrefutable with respect to the Peruvian origin of the liquor in that date. The first one comes from the article published by the Daily Alta Californiaon January 6th, 1864, already mentioned. In that article, a well informed San Franciscan reporter writes that:

The Custom House authorities have seized and confiscated 200 jars of Pisco, and libeled the Peruvian bark Mandarina for an alleged violation of the act of March 2d. 1799 (…) This liquor is made in Pisco, Peru, of grape, and is placed in earthenware jars containing from 2 1/2 to 3 gallons each, the jar being made tapering to facilitate transportation in Peru, the custom being to align three jars on each side of a mule. (Daily Alta California, 1864 b).

Judge Odgen Hoffman writes in his Statement of Facts of June 11 of the same year that:

“Pisco”, the article in question is a spirit manufactured in Peru from the Muscatel Grape and is sent to foreign countries and imported into the Port of San Francisco from Peru in earthen jars called Pisquitosmade in Peru and containing between three and four gallons each.(NARA, 1864 s).

While lawyer John Satterlee, in name of Nicholas Larco, writes in the legal petition of the same date that:

On the 27th day of December 1863 he [Larco] imported into this Port ex Barque “Mandarina” an invoice of 200 jars of Pisco Italia, an article manufactured from the Muscatel grape in the Republic of Peru, in jars containing between three and four gallons each, which is and has been (…) the usual way of importing said liquor. (NARA, 1864 t).

As a conclusion, it can be affirmed that the legal case “The U.S. vs. 200 Jars of Pisco” of 1864, not only brings into light evidence of the historical Peruvian exporting tradition of pisco to San Francisco ––in addition to presenting important data about the type of pisco imported as a consequence of certain commercial and legal transactions of that era–– but demonstrates in a clear and unequivocal way that, at least until 1864, there was no doubt from the part of the U.S. legal system or from the population of San Francisco that pisco was only native of Peru.

Figures

(Click on titles to see the figures)

1. Notice of the sailing of bark Mandarinato San Francisco 

2. Article published by the Daily Alta California 

3. Notice of the auction sale of the pisco 

4. Statement of Facts of Judge Odgen Hoffman 

5. Legal Petition of Nicholas Larco 

6. The Port of San Francisco in 1863

Notes

1.- ”Lomas,” a minor port located 149 miles south of Pisco (Cisneros,1898) was the natural port for the haciendas located in the valleys of Nazca (Ica) and Acarí (Arequipa) and towns of Ayacucho (Montoya, 1980).

2.- Nicholas Larco was born in Santa Margarita Ligure, Italy in 1818 and emigrated to Lima with his brothers Francisco and Fructuoso in the 1830s. He arrived in San Francisco on August 25, 1849 where he had a career as a general merchandise merchant. He died in San Francisco in 1878 (Baccari & Canepa, 1981; Ludowieg, 1993).

3.- The sales price of pisco Italia in San Francisco in 1849 was $22 per jar (The Panama Star, 1849). Using that price, the 200 jars confiscated to Nicholas Larco in 1864 can be valued at $4,400 in 1849 dollars, which is equivalent to $106,203 in today’s dollars (Holliday, 1999; U. S. Department Of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007).

4.- For example, just two weeks before the confiscation of Larco’s pisco, the Daily Morning Call published an advertisement from Kohler & Prohling announcing that their wines and brandies, produced in California, had won five of six awards in the Ohio State Fair last September (Daily Morning Call, 1863; Daily Morning Call, 1864).

References

Baccari, A. & Canepa, A.
1981. “The Italians in San Francisco in 1865, G.B. Cerrutti’s Report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”. California History, Vol. LX, No. 4, Winter 1981/82. California.

Centro de Estudios de las Finanzas Públicas de la H. Cámara de Diputados con datos de U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
2007. Estados Unidos: Indice de Precios al Consumidor, 1980 – 2007.

Cisneros, Carlos B. & García, Rómulo E.
1898. Guia ilustrada de Lima, el Callao y sus alrededores, Imprenta del Estado, p. 14. Lima.

Daily Alta California.
1864. Commercial and Financial, Feb 1, 1864. San Francisco.

1864 a. Auction Sales, H. M. Newhall & Co. Mar 3, 1864. San Francisco.

1864 b. Customs House Seizure. Jan 6, 1864. San Francisco.

Daily Morning Call.
1863. Grand Triumph of California Wines, Dec 24, 1863. San Francisco.

1864. Analysis of California Wines, Apr 4, 1864. San Francisco.

El Comercio.
1863. Edición de la tarde del 28 de octubre. Lima.

1863 a. Edición de la tarde del 12 de setiembre. Lima.

1863 b. Edición de la tarde del 13 de octubre. Lima.

García y García, Aurelio.
1863. Derrotero de la costa del Perú, Establecimiento Tipográfico de Aurelio Alfaro, pp. 57-58, y 75. Lima.

Holliday, J. S.
1999. Rush for riches: gold fever and the making of California, University of California Press, p. 346. Berkeley y Los Angeles.

Kunkel, T.
2001. Letters from the Editor – The New Yorker’s Harold Ross. The Modern Library, pp. 117-118. Nueva York.

Ludowieg Figari, Miguel.
1993. La familia Larco en el Perú. Revista del Instituto Peruano de Investigaciones Genealógicas, 19, p.151. Lima.

Montoya, Rodrigo
1980. Capitalismo y no capitalismo en el Perú: un estudio histórico de un eje regional. Mosca Azul. Lima.

The Panama Star.
1849. Prices in San Francisco, Vol. 1, No. 13, Jun 10, 1849. Panamá.

The United States National Archives and Records Administration, Pacific Region (San Francisco).
1863. FOREIGN VESSELS Entered in the District of San Francisco from Foreign Countries, during the 4th Quarter of 1863.

1864. “The United States of America v. 200 Jars of Pisco”; United States Common Law, Equity, and Admiralty Case Files, 1851-1903; Box 118 @shelf 1022B; Case Number 1380. Libel, Filed January 27, 1864, Wm. H. Sharp US. atty; Fol. 2.

1864 a. Certificate Copy of Statement of Facts by the Dist. Judge, Filed June 11, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk; Fol. 5.

1864 b. Certificate Copy of Statement of Facts by the Dist. Judge, Filed June 11, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk; Fol 7, 8.

1864 c. Libel, Filed January 27, 1864, Wm. H. Sharp US. atty.

1864 d. Monition ret’ble February 16th 1864, W. M. Sharp US. atty., Issued January 27 1864.

1864 e. Decree, Filed February 16, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk.

1864 f. Venditioni Exponas, Returnable the third day of March 1864, Filed March 14, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk.

1864 g. U. S. Marshal’s Costs…$116.80, Filed March 14, 1864, W. H. Chevers, clerk.

1864 h. Clerk’s Fees, $22.23, Filed March 14, 1864, W. H. Chevers, clerk.

1864 i. U. S. Atty. fees $25.55, Filed March 14, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk.

1864 j. Order referring Petition of N. Larco, for proofs and staying proceedings etc. etc., Filed March 15, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk.

1864 k. Order to pay costs out of fund, Filed April 12, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk.

1864 l. Certificate Copy of Statement of Facts by the Dist. Judge, Filed June 11, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk.

1864 ll. Certificate Copy of Petition of N. Larco, Filed June 11, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk.

1864 m. Remission of Forteiture, Filed Aug. 22, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk.

1864 n. Decree, Filed Aug. 22, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk.

1864 o. Certificate of Collection of Port that duties are $650, Filed Aug. 22, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk.

1864 p. Corrected Certificate of Collection of Port that duties are $601.25, Filed Sept. 10, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk.

1864 q. Certificate Copy of Petition of N. Larco, Filed June 11, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk, Fol. 2,3.

1864 r. Certificate Copy of Statement of Facts by the Dist. Judge, Filed June 11, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk, Fol. 4.

1864 s. Certificate Copy of Statement of Facts by the Dist. Judge, Filed June 11, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk, Fol. 2.

1864 t. Certificate Copy of Petition of N. Larco, Filed June 11, 1864, W. H. Chevers clerk, Fol. 2.