The Drysalters Club of New England a reminiscence by Alan A. Claflin
“Organized in 1885, the Drysalters Club of New England is among the venerable business social clubs of the nation. In New England it is the third oldest, being antedated by the Association of Wool Manufacturers (1865), and the New England Paint & Oil Club (1884).
Origin of the Name
As its members represent the dyestuff and chemical industry, there has been some discussion concerning the name. This should not occur among those familiar with the British background of the textile and chemical industries in America, and here it should be emphasized that the chemical industry has essentially its origin in the needs of the textile trade. Before the era of coal tar colors, indigo and dyewoods were largely prepared in the dyeing departments of the mills themselves. A great many products were used as prepared in relatively dilute solutions. The common inorganic acids, sulfuric, muriatic and nitric, were produced in separate plants, but many of their compounds were prepared together with the dyewood extracts in the mill that used them. When the products were in concentrated, dry form, so that they could be conveniently handled by a community dealer, this dealer described his activities as “drysalting.” Thus in Yorkshire and Lancashire, particularly at the turn of the century, one could see many signs and advertisements describing firms as “Dealers in Dyewares and Drysalters.” Contemporary terms which are perhaps as obsolete or unfamiliar to present day America are “Fellsmonger” for a dealer in skins and hides, and “Vintner” for a wine merchant. Haberdasher has survived, but not in its original meaning, that of a dealer in small textile wares, as tapes, thread, yarn, remnants for linings, etc. In 1885 when the club was formed, a very large proportion of the dry chemicals used in America came from England, and it was not from a desire to be odd, but to be accurately descriptive that the name “Drysalters” was selected.
Purpose of Club
In some degree it is fortunate that the original minutes defining the purposes for which the Drysalters Club was organized are lost, because aside from the general one of promoting acquaintance and good fellowship today, such purposes as maintaining uniformity of prices, punishing price cutting, restraining competition, and establishing committees to enforce such regulations would be illegal in the extreme. Your historian whose membership in the club goes back only fortythree or fortyfour years, found when he was a fledgling member that such committees as the “Acid Committee,” the “Alkali Committee,” the “Bichromate Committee,” and the “Arbitration Committee,” were purely perfunctory honors. This shows that by the early 1900’s there was some recognition among business men that the Sherman law and various other antimonopoly statutes possibly possessed teeth. However, he still remembers the mingled awe and dread with which a decade earlier he regarded a man reputed to be a member of the Acid Committee of the Drysalters Club. These committee men unquestionably then were looked upon as a sort of Gestapo or Ogpu by the younger man, and it should be noted at that time only principals were admitted to membership in the club.
From its beginning the club had four meetings a year, October, January, April, and a Summer Outing. The October and April meetings were at first, at least, by tradition purely business meetings and limited to members. The January meeting was formal, with invited guests, and the Summer Outing to which guests also could be invited was held at “Taft’s” at Point Shirley.
Social historians and period novelists have somehow neglected Taft. The present writer does not even know his first name, by his time Taft had been succeeded by the Point Shirley Club, but in an earlier day Taft’s was as famous as Delmonico’s afterwards became in New York. Gourmets, not alone in New England, but throughout the nation, and visiting connoisseurs of food and drink from Europe, sang the praises of Taft’s shore dinners. This did not mean merely lobster and shellfish and perhaps chicken halibut, but all the choice shore birds, and wild ducks and geese. In the halcyon days of the clipper ships, the finest wines from Portugal, the Azores, and Madeira were brought direct by their captains to the lockers of Mine Host Taft. Daniel Webster, Edward Everett, Rufus Choate, New England’s great orators competed in forensic eloquence with polished Southerners, or shared honors with the great tragedians, Forest and Macready at Taft’s hospitable board. Charles Dickens was given a special dinner there. No wonder the Drysalters Club was proud to go to Taft’s for the Summer Outing. With a different wine for every course and Napoleon Brandy and Curacao with the coffee, the asperities of regulated competition were softened and the austerity of caste hardened mill aristocrats rendered sufficiently malleable to admit there were some passable good chaps, among the purveyors of their essential drugs, who, if they did rob them by adulteration, made amends by their hospitality. It was, however, as much because he expected to be on the inside in price fixing as it was to share in the fabled Point Shirley dinners, that the writer was gratified indeed to become the youngest member up to that time to be elected a member of the club. According to his recollection this was in 1902. Club records perhaps make it a year later, but secretaries in those days may have been chosen as much for their ability to forget as to record. However, by that time the Club was nearly, if not quite purely social, and the Boston agents of the German dye firms shared in the administration with the local chemical manufacturers and dealers.
In 1906 the Drysalters Club shared with the then existing section of the British Society of Chemical Industry, the honor of inviting Sir William Perkin to Boston, Sir William, who, as what might be termed a laboratory apprentice at eighteen, had discovered the first aniline dye, lived to become a great scientist, and in his old age to be honored by the world as the founder of the great coal tar color industry. The dinner in his honor was addressed by William Whitman, President of the Arlington Mills, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, and Governor Curtis Guild of Massachusetts whose peroration in which he paid tribute to the genius, who transformed the Stygian blackness of tar to the brilliant spectrum of the rainbow, will never be forgotten by those favored to hear it.
In 1912 partly due to the increasing popularity of golf, and partly to the influx of younger officers, and maybe a little to the sobriety inspired by the necessities of motoring, the Club said farewell to Point Shirley and held its first outing and golf tournament at the Belmont Hill Country Club. In 1915 World War I suddenly made the textile interest aware of their utter dependence on the dyestuff and chemical industries. Then the Drysalters’ dinners became not occasions when a few of the more convivial textile men condescended to attend, but events to which they were grateful to be invited, and meet as equals the men who might supply them something with which to operate their dyehouses. From that time on there has been an even closer affiliation between the textile interests and also the chemical and color consuming industries of paper and leather and the Drysalters Club, and this association unquestionably contributed to the successful launching of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. One of the writer’s proudest recollections is that his oldest son, Avery Claflin, who as a volunteer ambulance driver in France had been wounded in action before America was at war, was able to show to the Drysalters Club at a dinner in 1917 perhaps the first American taken photos of actual modern warfare. His lantern slides and first hand description of combat conditions led the Club to raise a fund of $2500 to fully equip an ambulance. The ambulance saw honorable service in France until it got in the way of a German shell, then little was left of it except the nameplate which now rests in the archives of the Club. Another personal reminiscence is that one of my very first guests at a Drysalters Club dinner (this must have been 1904) was the honored President Emeritus of the AATCC –Dr. Olney. About 1920 the bylaws of the Club were liberalized and salesmen and junior members of chemical firms were made eligible for membership. Recent history of the Drysalters Club is familiar to all members of the AATCC in New England, and to many from afar, who have been its guests. Probably there are few AATCC members who have not been guests, and many are much more intimate with the current activities than the writer, but it has been a pleasure to recollect those happier days, when the Chairman of the Dining Committee had no graver problems than discussing with the Steward of the Algonquin Club, whether the guests would prefer Moët Chandon, or Veuve Cliquot.”
Note: Alan A. Claflin was a regular contributor of research articles published by the ADR in 1922, 1924 and 1926. He was not just a social butterfly.
Source: Alan A. Claflin, “The Drysalters Club of New England,” American Dyestuff Reporter, Dec. 2, 1946, p631, 634.