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Bransome's

The Coffee Riddle



U 7.650-5: What did Ignatius Gallaher do? I'll tell you. Inspiration of genius. Cabled right away. Have you Weekly Freeman of 17 March? Right. Have you got that?

He flung back pages of the files and stuck his finger on a point.

- Take page four, advertisement for Bransome's coffee let us say. Have you got that?



Branson's Coffee was a household word at the turn of the century, a brand whose advertisements you could not possibly escape, as a 1907 report about the "municipal and private operation of public utilities" to the National Civic Federation, Commission on Public Ownership and Operation informs us:

"Branson's Coffee", "Epps' Cocoa", "Bryant & May's Matches", "Lipton's Teas", etc., appear in giant letters running the whole length of the [tram] car outside above the windows...

 


A tram with a Branson's Coffee ad on O'Connell Bridge around 1900

 

        The brand was so well-known that it was used as an example suitable for a mnemotechnical exercise in Eustace H. Miles's How to Remember Without Memory Systems Or with Them published in London in 1901:

Good instances of association could be got from Advertisements (eg a spade and Branson's Coffee-Extract).

        Click here for a picture of the famous bottle with the spade.

       Contrary to what Gifford tells us there was never a brand called "Bransome's Coffee". It is absurd, considering the brand's ubiquitous presence, to believe that Joyce made an unwilling error here, and so the reader is left with the question why Joyce turned Branson's into Bransome's. The Rosenbach manuscript clearly shows that Joyce intended Bransome's, so a transmission error can be ruled out.

       The only half-way satisfactory answer lies in the fact that Myles Crawford is so often wrong; he is such an Aeolian windbag that his friends suggest he suffers from "incipient jigs". His companions are so used to his whimsical behaviour that they do not even bother to comment on his slip of Bransome's for Branson's. They did not even comment on his blunder when he (anachronistically) dated the Phoenix Park murders to 1881.

       The larger riddle that looms behind this one is of course the question of which particular advertisement Crawford refers to in order to illustrate Gallaher's scoop. As he dates the occasion around 6 May - the actual date of the murders - he supposedly thinks of the Weekly Freeman for 17 March 1881. But this issue doesn't exist (it was a Thursday, not a Saturday - publication day). Neither 17 March 1882, nor 1904 (near Bloomsday), turns out to fall on a Saturday. By 17 March 1883 the story would be old hat, because the information about the Invincibles' escape route after the Phoenix Park murders became public knowledge during the trial culminating in the informer Carey giving testimony against his comrades on 17 February 1883.

 Harald Beck


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