1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Engrossing

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ENGROSSING, a term used in two legal senses: (1) the writing or copying of a legal or other document in a fair large hand (en gros), and (2) the buying up of goods wholesale in order to sell at a higher price so as to establish a monopoly. The word “engross” has come into English ultimately from the Late Lat. grossus, thick, stout, large, through the A. Fr. engrosser, Med. Lat. ingrossare, to write in a large hand, and the French phrase en gros, in gross, wholesale. Engrossing and the kindred practices of forestalling and regrating were early regarded as serious offences in restraint of trade, and were punishable both at common law and by statute. They were of more particular importance in relation to the distribution of corn supplies. The statute of 1552 defines engrossing as “buying corn growing, or any other corn, grain, butter, cheese, fish or other dead victual, with intent to sell the same again.” The law forbade all dealing in corn as an article of ordinary merchandise, apart from questions of foreign import or export. The theory was that when corn was plentiful in any district it should be consumed at what it would bring, without much respect to whether the next harvest might be equally abundant, or to what the immediate wants of an adjoining province of the same country might be. The first statute on the subject appears to have been passed in the reign of Henry III., though the general policy had prevailed before that time both in popular prejudice and in the feudal custom. The statute of Edward VI. (1552) was the most important, and in it the offences were elaborately defined; by this statute any one who bought corn to sell it again was made liable to two months’ imprisonment with forfeit of the corn. A second offence was punished by six months’ imprisonment and forfeit of double the value of the corn, and a third by the pillory and utter ruin. Severe as this statute was, liberty was given by it to transport corn from one part of the country under licence to men of approved probity, which implied that there was to be some buying of corn to sell it again and elsewhere. Practically “engrossing” came to be considered buying wholesale to sell again wholesale. “Forestalling” was different, and the statutes were directed against a class of dealers who went forward and bought or contracted for corn and other provisions, and spread false rumours in derogation of the public and open markets appointed by law, to which our ancestors appear to have attached much importance, and probably in these times not without reason. The statute of Edward VI. was modified by many subsequent enactments, particularly by the statute of 1663, by which it was declared that there could be no “engrossing” of corn when the price did not exceed 48s. per quarter, and which Adam Smith recognized, though it adhered to the variable and unsatisfactory element of price, as having contributed more to the progress of agriculture than any previous law in the statute book. In 1773 these injurious statutes were abolished, but the penal character of “engrossing” and “forestalling” had a root in the common law of England, as well as in the popular prejudice, which kept the evil alive to a later period. As the public enlightenment increased the judges were at no loss to give interpretations of the common law consistent with public policy. Subsequent to the act of 1773, for example, there was a case of conviction and punishment for engrossing hops, R. v. Waddington, 1800, 1 East, 143, but though this was deemed a sound and proper judgment at the time, yet it was soon afterwards overthrown in other cases, on the ground that buying wholesale to sell wholesale was not in “restraint of trade” as the former judges had assumed.

In 1800, one John Rusby was indicted for having bought ninety quarters of oats at 41s. per quarter and selling thirty of them at 43s. the same day. Lord Kenyon, the presiding judge, animadverted strongly against the repealing act of 1773, and addressed the jury strongly against the accused. Rusby was heavily fined, but, on appeal, the court was equally divided as to whether engrossing, forestalling and regrating were still offences at common law. In 1844, all the statutes, English, Irish and Scottish, defining the offences, were repealed and with them the supposed common law foundation. In the United States there have been strong endeavours by the government to suppress trusts and combinations for engrossing. (See also Trusts; Monopoly.)

Authorities.—D. Macpherson, Annals of Commerce (1805); J.S. Girdler, Observations on Forestalling, Regrating and Ingrossing (1800); W. Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce; W.J. Ashley, Economic History; Sir J. Stephen, History of Criminal Law; Murray, New English Dictionary.