The title of this book does less than justice to the contents, for this is the story not only of John Owens, but also of his father, Owen Owens. The elder Owens established himself in Manchester, England as a hat-lining cutter about 1790. Later he manufactured hats, umbrellas, and cotton cloth, employing a number of hands in his shop but also “putting out” much work to artisans in the neighborhood. He acted as his own wholesaler, dealing with merchants from the surrounding area. Gradually he began to sell goods made by others. By 1830 his firm had given up both its manufacturing activities and its domestic trade, and Owen Owens and Son were selling entirely in the foreign market.

A considerable part of the trade of the Manchester firm was with South America. Owens first penetrated that continent’s markets in 1812 with a shipment of goods on consignment to John Scurr of Río de Janeiro. Two decades later “the greater part” of Owen Owens and Son’s “capital and energies was devoted to the markets of Brazil, Banda Oriental [Uruguay], and the States of the Río de la Plata [Argentina]” (pp. 72-73). A single agent in Brazil, A. W. Lyon of Bahia, in the middle of the 1840s was handling eighty percent of Owen Owens and Son’s entire export trade. The Manchester firm shipped cheap cottons and woolens to Latin America, receiving in return bills of exchange, specie, and native produce such as hides, sugar, and raw cotton. Sale of these commodities in the English market at times netted the Manchester merchants a larger profit than was made on their shipments to South America.

John Owens became the managing partner in Owen Owens and Son about 1828. Early in his regime the firm expanded its trade in the New World and moved into the Near and Far East. Always at the mercy of overseas agents, John Owens was particularly unfortunate in his choice of firms to act for him in the late 1830s and the 1840s. Seemingly as a consequence, he began to withdraw from foreign trade. His later success as money lender and speculator greatly increased the size of the fortune with which, upon his death in 1846, he endowed the college that has grown into Manchester University.

This good book ought to be a better one. “The history of any firm whose records survive,” Clapp writes (pp. 175-176), “can . . . illuminate and illustrate the general economic history of the times.” I agree with him and therefore wish that he had made more explicit the relationship of Owen Owens and Son to “the general economic history” of the period in which the firm operated. His dependence upon the firm’s records is too complete. Such obvious secondary sources as Norman Sydney Buck’s The Development of the Organisation of Anglo-American Trade, 1800-1850 (New Haven, 1925) and Herbert Heaton’s work on the Yorkshire cloth traders are missing from Clapp’s citations. More importantly, he failed to use a number of Parliamentary Papers (especially the 1833 Report from the Select Committee on the Present State of Manufactures, Commerce, and Shipping in the United Kingdom), which would have given him data for judging the typicalness of the Owens’ experience. Nonetheless, Clapp’s book is so meticulously written that his readers will come away from it with the feeling that they, too, could carry on an export business in nineteenth-century Manchester.