A Chronicle of the China Trade. The Papers of Augustine Heard & Co., 1840-1877

“Business is too important and interesting not to be chronicled somehow,” Albert Heard wrote.1 He was referring to his family’s firm, Augustine Heard & Co., which reigned among the largest American trading houses in China in the mid-nineteenth century. The company was active from 1840 to 1877 under the direction of Augustine Heard and his nephews John, Augustine II, Albert, and George Heard. The family shared Albert’s sentiments, leaving behind an extensive chronicle of their experiences in China. In addition to a voluminous collection of extraordinarily descriptive letters and diaries, they took care to meticulously preserve the company’s documents and journals—from partnership agreements and export lists to custom regulations and ship designs. The Heard papers, one of the largest collections of business records relating to the nineteenth-century China trade, present a look into momentous events concerning Sino-Western relations as well as the day-to-day activities of American traders in the treaty ports. Within the 800 volumes, 272 boxes, and 103 cartons survive both the professional accounts and personal perspectives of the life and trajectory of a nineteenth—century firm—a firm that prospered at the height of the China trade and met its decline with the advent of new technologies and the emergence of the Chinese as mainstream players in international trade.

  1. Albert Heard, Diary, January 23, 1856. HC: HP-1.