Fennerstein's Champagne - 70 U.S. 145 (1865)
U.S. Supreme Court
Fennerstein's Champagne, 70 U.S. 3 Wall. 145 145 (1865)
70 U.S. (3 Wall.) 145
In order to show the actual market value of articles of merchandise at a particular place in a foreign country, letters by third parties abroad to other third parties offering to sell at such rates -- if written in ordinary course of the business of the party writing them and contemporaneously with the transaction which is the subject of the suit -- are admissible as evidence, even though neither the writers nor the recipients of the letters are in any way connected with the subject of the suit and though there is no proof that the writers of the letters are dead.
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. [Footnote 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' 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, 'Qualite 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 percent 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.