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S.O. Steele & Sons ad from the Newfoundland Directory

Record No: mha00000376
Title: S. O. Steele & Sons Ltd. Fonds
Dates: 1901-1983
Location: Banks 22-29
Creator: S.O.Steele & Sons Ltd.
Extent: 36 m of textual records
Organization: The fonds is arranged in 6 series: Financial records, 1901-1977; Correspondence, 1922-1983; Shipping records, 1922-1975; Orders, 1919-1979; Miscellaneous documents, 1913-1965; Catalogues, 1910-1979.
Source of Supplied Title: Title based on content of the fonds
Restrictions: No restrictions.
Adm. Hist/Bio. Sketch: S.O. Steele & Sons Ltd., a Newfoundland family business, was established by Samuel Owen Steele in 1899 at 100 Water Street, St. John's. Steele emigrated from England to Newfoundland in the 1880s, and established a furniture and dry goods business in St. John's.
     In 1886, Steele married Sarah Harris, niece and adopted daughter of James Hunt Martin and his wife Hannah (Tucker) Martin, both proprietors in their own right. James Martin, an English immigrant who had arrived in Newfoundland in the first half of the nineteenth century, had established a hardware store on Water Street. Hannah Martin opened a china shop circa 1848. The china shop was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892, but Hannah rebuilt it in 1894. Their children having died young, James and Hannah adopted Sarah Harris. After Hannah died intestate in 1899, Sarah inherited the china shop, thus making way for S.O. Steele & Sons Ltd. Hannah had operated the shop as a part-time concern but S.O. Steele expanded it into a full-time business by developing a wholesale trade, importing china from Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent, Europe, and later, Japan. Local firms, Ayre and Knowling, provided competition in the first decade of the twentieth century.
     S.O. Steele's two eldest children, Owen William and James Robert, joined the family business. When war broke out in 1914, both sons enlisted in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Owen Steele was killed at Beaumont Hamel, but James Robert survived, returning to resume his position in the family business. Sarah and S.O. Steele retired to Paignton, Devon, England in the early 1920s, passing the firm to sons, James Robert and Victor.
     The firm survived the depression of the 1930s and, like many others, thrived during World War II, with increased business stemming from the establishment of military bases in Newfoundland and the great influx of foreign military personnel to St. John's. In the 1940s, James Harris Steele, the second son of James Robert, entered the business, to work along with his father and uncle.
     By the late 1960s, however, large chain stores were supplanting outport merchants, S.O. Steele's chief wholesale customers. Despite the decline, S.O Steele & Sons Ltd. survived by developing a strong retail trade to complement the wholesale business. This shift prompted the firm to import more expensive china which was of less value to the outport market.
     James Robert Steele died in 1970, and Victor retired in 1976, leaving James to operate the business. When James retired in 1989, the family made a unanimous decision to close the business. The building at 100 Water Street was purchased by Breakwater Books who have restored and refurbished the century-old property.
Scope and Content: Fonds consists of the operational records of the business of S.O. Steele & Sons Ltd., for 1901 to 1983, with a complete record of the business existing for the 1920s to 1976. The fonds consists of financial records, ledgers, journals, order books and shop books etc., correspondence, orders and shipping information, including bills of lading, customs entry forms and marine insurances. There is a large collection of catalogues of products which were sold at the store: china and glassware of all qualities, silverware, lamps and hardware, cutlery and flatware. The records of daily transactions were not selected for permanent preservation.
     The fonds is arranged in 6 series: Financial records, 1901-1977; Correspondence, 1922-1983; Shipping records, 1922-1975; Orders, 1919-1979; Miscellaneous documents, 1913-1965; Catalogues, 1910-1979.
Custodial History: Records were created by the company and remained in the Steele building until they were donated to the MHA in 1989.
Finding Aids: MHA finding aid 82
Finding Aid on the Web:
Subject: Chinaware.
Subject: Business records.
Subject: Catalogues.

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