This is a strange one, even for me. There were a couple of boxes of William Marsh Rice’s correspondence sitting out on the map case today–I don’t know who was using them or why. But there they were, so I felt obliged to take a look. Inside one I found a folder full of cancelled checks, all personal rather than business in nature. The dates on them began in the spring of 1896, when the Rices were in Houston hoping that the warm weather would improve Mrs. Rice’s health. It didn’t–she moved on to a spa in Waukesha, Wisconsin where she died. There are a handful of checks written there and then the remainder came after William Marsh Rice returned to New York. There are checks in the folder all the way up until his death in 1900.
As I mentioned, these checks seem to be on an account used for purely personal expenses. For example, quite a few, both large and small, are written to Siegel Cooper and Co., which turns out to be a department store that began in Chicago but opened a huge store in New York in 1896. (The link is well worth a look, by the way.)
Here’s the store:
Rice wrote checks to one particular establishment far more than any other. There are easily a couple of dozen of them in the folder. I was pretty frustrated for a while because I couldn’t really make heads or tails of his handwriting on these checks, but finally, in desperation, I just typed into google what I guessed it said: Our Home Granula Co. (Note that he wrote this check on a piece of regular paper. He did that a lot. I don’t know if it was normal or if it was millionaire behavior.)
Well, Our Home Granula Co. was a real thing. It was a health food sold as having curative power, a cereal similar to grape nuts that was invented and sold by a sanitorium in Dansville, New York. Mr. Rice bought a very large quantity of it. Tiny ads for Our Home Granula ran in the back pages of many newspapers. Here’s the text of one of those ads:
Granula, An Incomparable Food.
PREPARED from Winter Wheat, containing all
the nutritious elements of that grain, and is the
best food made for invalids and children. It is a
Twice COOKED FOOD, ready for immediate able use,
and yet will keep in a dry place for years unaltered in
Unequaled as a diet for cases of nervous exhaustion
and debility, constipation and dyspepsia. Has been
tested for years by James C. Jackson, M. D., in Our
Home Hygienic Institute, upon all classes of invalids,
with remarkable success. It is one of the cheapest
foods in use, a pound of it containing more absolute
nutriment for brain and body than an equal weight of
any preparation in the market. Delicious as a diet.
Single cases of 34 lbs. each, • – – $3 00
Single cases of 48 lbs. each, • – – 6 00
Less than case — per lb., – – – – 15c.
Trial Box by mail, prepaid, – – – 86c«
The above are net prices without discount or varia-
tion, delivered on cars of N. Y., Lake Erie & W., or
Delaware, Lackawanna & W. R. R., at Dansville. In
ordering, do not fail to direct how goods shall be sent,
by freight or express, and by which R. R. Make all
remittances by Money Order, Registered Letter or N.
Y. Draft. Local checks not received. Ask your gro-
I find myself at a loss for words.
Bonus: Just when you start to think you might actually know too much about someone, the mystery creeps back in. During the period in 1896 when he was in Houston, Mr. Rice wrote several checks to the Koken Barber’s Supply Company. Among these checks is the single largest in the folder–it’s for $600.
This is mystifying. Even if William Marsh Rice was the world’s first metrosexual, that’s way too much for beard maintenance. In fact, a quick look at an old Koken Barber’s Supply Catalogue makes it clear that it would be hard to get to $600 without buying several of their hydraulic lift barber chairs. I guess he could have been outfitting a barber shop, but why do it out of his personal funds?