Webb James: since 1793 in the world of spices
Spices, part of an ancient world full of fascination and adventure
The use of spices in the preparation of food goes back to time immemorial and is still a determining factor in the quality of many food products today. The spice trade (from the Latin species, special or precious goods), which was already flourishing in Phoenician times, has a fascinating, millennia-long history of adventure and courage. Over the ancient caravan routes to the East or along the new paths mapped out by fearless navigators along the coasts of Africa and towards the Indies, hundreds of merchants of all nationalities met and mingled, their exploits leaving an indelible mark on the path of human progress. Today we know what are spices; in the past spices were precious “coin” and competition for the control of trade led to wars and alliances, inspired great discoveries and above all, determined the strategic importance of seaports.
Among these was Livorno (often called Leghorn in English), which became the most important port in the Mediterranean during the 18th century and a great trading centre for colonial goods as a result of its status as a free port and the concessions instituted by the Grand-Dukes of Tuscany. Even if things are very different today, we still feel a connection with this world and like to think we have contributed in a small way to this long story in which we were, are and will be humble players.
OUR COMPANY’S ROOTS
With the help of the many documents preserved in our archives, we have reconstructed the history of a company which with more than 200 years of trading represents a rare example of continuity. Juniper berries, orris root, coriander, cassia, allspice, cinnamon, pepper, cloves and nutmeg are just some of the products which were already on our price list in 1805.
Our origins go back to 1793 when Mr. John Webb, an English merchant from Hot Wells, near Clifton, Bristol, moved his business to Livorno in order to reap the advantages offered by the free port. In partnership with Mr. Holmes, he founded Webb Holmes & Co., which had its offices in Via Grande and specialized in exporting spices and botanicals for the gin and liquor producers to the United States and United Kingdom. In June 1819, Mr. Holmes contracted yellow fever, retired from the business and returned permanently to England.
When Mr. Webb died 10 years later, his daughter, Anne, inherited the company and in June 1829, installed as manager a certain Mr. John James, who would one month later become her husband. The company, since then known as Webb James, passed from father to son down the generations. It went from John to his son Enrico (born 1835), from Enrico to his son Giovanni (born 1861), and finally from Giovanni to his son Enrico (born 1889). Between the two World Wars, the latter decided to leave Livorno, and so it was that Mr. Oscar Trumpy, who had managed Webb James since 1931, bought the company 10 years later for the sum of 2.000 lire.
THE WAY TO SAFE SPICES: THE RESULT OF WEBB JAMES’ EXPERIENCE
Oscar Trumpy, an intrepid Norwegian businessman from Bergen, revived the company’s core business. He boosted importation of colonial goods and spices began exportation of Italian aromatic herbs and most importantly, recognized the importance of investing in processing the goods they traded in.
In 1956, first factory of wholesale spices in Livorno specializing in processing spices was opened. It was this farsighted decision which brought the company into the modern age and laid the foundations for its future development. In the following years, Oscar Trumpy’s son, Federico, took up the reins and having realized the importance of completing the chain, began to invest in production. And so we come to today, and working side by side with Federico are his daughter, Elisa and son, Stefano who is the spokesman for the company’s new vision, in which all activities – production, selection, processing and sales – are geared towards a single objective: guaranteeing the safety and quality of the products offered.
This decision has meant new investments in structures, technology and know-how, but has made Webb James the first company in Europe able to offer the food industry supplies of wholesome, safe, guaranteed spices with a never-before achieved level of excellence.