Early Marketing: Nicolaas Witsen, The First Wholesaler of Coffee

Nicolaas Witsen, a 15th century Dutch entrepreneur

In the late 15th century in Amsterdam, an already very busy and notoriously savvy businessman was seeking a new venture.  This man was not new to a busy schedule – he had been the mayor of Amsterdam 13 times.  His name was Nicolaas Witsen.  There were many professions guiding Witsen’s brave and innovative spirit.  When not performing his duties as a nobleman he was a writer and one of the time’s foremost authority’s on shipbuilding and Russian affairs. Entrepreneurial endeavors naturally followed suit.

So when Witsen began governance of the Dutch East India Company, it was no surprise that his peers never called his ability into question. On his regular routes of exploration, he discovered that his counterparts were more interested in trade than they were in discovery. So Witsen too became interested in opportunities for further financial gain – if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

He began to send seedlings from experimental coffee farms that he had set up on the island of Java back to his networks in Amsterdam.  The first crop was destroyed on ship by flood. The second became a household name – you guessed it: Java. At the first public coffee auction, Dutch East coffee fetched an astounding forty-seven cents per one pound of unroasted (green) beans. The high price tag generated great interest—prompting King Louis XIV of France to request regular shipments, launching the first “wholesale” activity as we know it today. Witsen became wildly successful, but a jack of many trades, he moved on to study law, linguistics and cartography – the last of which would come to partly define his professional career.

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Categories: History + Legends, People

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