March 4, 2010

S.S. Pierce

When Founder Samuel Stillman Pierce (pronounced purse) opened his first store at the corner of Tremont and Court Streets in Boston's old West End in 1831, he vowed "I may not make money, but I shall make a reputation."

Samuel Stillman Pierce (1807-1880) was known as the purveyor of fancy goods and potent libations to Victorian Bostonians. He catered to the carriage trade and created a company that involved four generations of the Pierce Family in its successful operations. With its own coat of arms adorning a distinctive red label on canned goods, and the largest line of privately packed fancy foods in the world, S.S. Pierce sold its delicacies not only through eight New England stores of its own but also through 3,500 distributors across the U.S. and by mail order worldwide. The the lavish 1886 catalog for S.S. Pierce & Co., Importers and Grocers there are myriad items for sale in its Grocery, Wine, Cigar, and Perfumery Departments: gelatine, isinglass, chutneys, French vegetables in glass jars, Alghieri's soups, Wiebaden goods, imported and domestic wines, Russian cigarettes, Egyptian cigarettes, quadruple essences, tooth brushes, soaps assorted, inexhaustible salts and much more.

Service was paramount and the company would hired horse-drawn sleighs to deliver groceries when snowstorms closed roads to auto traffic, and maintained a well-drilled corps of salesmen who would phone housewives at appointed hours. They not only suggested menus but answered such arcane questions as how to cook an ostrich egg (boil it) or how to extract the flavor from a 6-in. vanilla bean (bury a 1-in. cutting from the bean for a month in a pound of sugar). As a businessman, Pierce was said to be “a man of unflinching honesty and sterling integrity of character.” After amost a century and a half of a four generation family operated business, S.S. Pierce & Company was sold in 1972 to Seneca Foods Corporation, of New York.

The Pierce Family Lot is on Poplar Avenue in Forest Hills Cemetery.

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