Fennerstein's Champagne

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

70 U.S. 145

Fennerstein's Champagne

ON a libel of information and seizure in the District Court for the Northern District of California, the question was whether certain champagne wines made at Rheims, in France, and invoiced for this country in October, 1863, had been knowingly invoiced below 'the actual market value of them at the time and place when and where manufactured,' at which actual value the statute requires that they should be valued. [1] Upon the trial, as appeared by the bill of exceptions, the claimants introduced testimony tending to show that champagne wines in the hands of the manufacturers in the champagne district of France, in a manufactured state, ready for consumption, have no fixed actual market value, and are not sold or dealt in at the place of production. To rebut this evidence and for the purpose of showing that such wines are held for sale at current rates and prices, at which they are freely offered and sold there, and also to show, among other things, the market value of the wines in question, the United States offered in evidence seven letters, dated on and between October 27, 1863, and May 12, 1864, from various persons, large dealers at Rheims, where, as already said, the wines were manufactured. One will exhibit the type of all:

'RHEIMS, 29th of April, 1864.

'MR. AMOS HILL, OF CALIFORNIA, Edwards's Hotel, Hanover Square, London.

'I received the letter which you have done me the honor to write to me, under date of Liverpool, 26th instant, and I hasten to answer it. I sell only one single quality of champagne wine, 'Qualit e Superieure,' Eugene Cliquot's brand. The price of this wine is four francs the bottle, and four and a quarter francs the two half-bottles, taken at Rheims, packing included; and I allow 3 per cent. discount for payment in cash. I know perfectly well the kinds of wine which suit the American taste. My brand is also very highly appreciated in New York and California. I have put the price at the lowest that I can sell wine, in consideration of the importance of your orders, and in the hope of establishing permanent relations with your respectable house.

'Accept, Monsieur, my hearty salutations.


To the introduction of these letters the claimant's counsel objected, assigning the same grounds which were assigned against the introduction of certain Prices-Current in the preceding case of Cliquot's Champagne, to wit: because they were immaterial and irrelevant; because they referred to champagne wines different in kind, quality, and price from those proceeded against in this action; because no actual sale or purchase had been or was proposed to be proved, based upon or connected with the letters offered; assigning also as ground additional that these letters were res inter alios acta, and that the letters in reply to which they were written were not produced.

The court below admitted the letters, and the government had judgment. On error here their admissibility was the point discussed.

Mr. D. B. Eaton, for the claimant: The theory of the law of evidence, on which these letters were received, would seem to have been this: that when the question is, whether there is a market price for an article, and what the same is at a specific time and in a given city, in a foreign country, the facts relative thereto may be proved by reading in evidence whatever any manufacturer of the article referred to has written on the subject at any time, within about a year of the date in question, to anybody else in any part of the world; and that this may be done when all the letters to which those read are responses, are withheld; when, for aught that appears, those letters were mere decoys, written to bring back a particular reply to be used in evidence; when no account is given of the persons to whom the letters offered in evidence purport to be addressed and when the name (Mr. Amos Hill, in this one case), may be a pseudonyme merely. Is this court ready to declare, in solemn decision, such a theory of evidence, a true one?

Independently of all the objections which in the case of Cliquot's Champagne were made to certain Prices-Current there offered, and which apply as well to these letters, the objection of res inter alios acta has direct and the strongest bearing.

Mr. Speed, A. G., and Mr. Lake, D. A. for California, contra.

Mr. Justice SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  The reader who desires a full view of the nature and effect of this statute will find it in the preceding case. The present case involved all the questions recited in that, and the additional point presented in the syllabus beside. Of course the latter only is reported.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).