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Glue - Commercial And Legal Aspects

( Originally Published 1906 )

Trade Conditions Affecting the Price of Glue. — Close study of the glue industry reveals conditions extant in few, if any, other lines of business. The laws of supply and demand, universally recognized as the basic influences affecting the price of any commodity, are here factors of but secondary importance; and, while it is true that the price of glue is subject to the same natural trade influences affecting the majority of manufactured products, such as cost of production, which, in turn, is subject to scarcity of stock or lack of economical processes of production, and scarcity of glue itself, the glue market is in the main controlled by purely artificial considerations. Few, if any, products require the selling argument necessary to dispose of glue, an argument that draws freely upon the realm of fiction for its presentation.

It is an established and accepted principle, among manufacturers and dealers, that the market price of glue is any price that can be obtained. Under existing business conditions, this applies, to a limited extent, to any manufactured product. The seller of any commodity will take advantage of the credulity of the purchaser in the endeavor to realize an increased profit; but the seller of glue has far greater latitude in this respect, inasmuch as the commodity in which he deals is but little understood and is not subject to sale under specification.

A consumer who is in need of lubricating oils, paint, or other product, the sale of which is subject to specification, even though he know absolutely nothing about the material he contemplates purchasing, has always a limited degree of protection, in that he may consult some authoritative list of prices current, and thereby inform himself, within certain limits, of what he may be called upon to pay. The uninitiated consumer of glue enjoys no such advantage. As a practical demonstration of this lack of data for guidance, the absence, as it were, of any suggestion of a definite market value of glue, we may assume that an individual, A, con-templates the purchase of a lubricating oil.

Again, let us assume that A is a novice in the purchase of glue. He is about to embark in a line of business entailing the purchase of considerable glue at the outset. Lacking any definite information as to the kind of glue he requires for his particular work, he at once consults a list of wholesale prices current published in some reputable trade journal. This is what he gleans.

Now, were A a consumer of oils, even though he had never before purchased any, he could readily learn that Spindle oil, for example, will not answer for the lubrication of engine cylinders. He has only to know the particular grade of oil required for his work, Spindle No. 1, for example, when he may form some definite idea as to the cost, which will be 12 or 13 cents per gallon on this day. He may inform himself of this, for the reason that oils are sold under specification, and hence the prices quoted are approximately correct. Not so with glue. Were our friend embarking in the manufacture of paper boxes, for instance, he might use with success any of the glues quoted in the above list and thus pay anywhere from 7 to 40 cents per pound. The chances are that he does not know a bone glue from a hide and, upon consulting the above list, might at once conceive the notion that French glue is the best on earth, since it costs more than any other. Two courses of action are open to him. He may either hazard the purchase of a medium-priced glue and eventually, by running the gamut of all the glues offered him, learn that a sweet 7-cent glue will answer as well as one at 25 cents for paper-box work, or he may apply to the nearest dealer for information on the subject. Woe betide him if he does! In event of the prior contingency, his experience will be gained only at the outlay of considerable money. In the event of the latter, the information he would glean in some cases would, if published, contribute materially to the gaiety of nations. The dealer, proceeding upon the established principle that the market price of glue is any price that can be obtained, will at once take advantage of the applicant's credulity to impress upon him the necessity of using a particular grade of glue representing the maximum margin of profit to the dealer, although, possibly, the minimum of efficiency to the consumer. This the consumer will use until another enterprising dealer offers him something cheaper.

That the above list of quotations is of but little value in assisting the uninitiated to form some estimate of the price of glue will be seen from the following considerations. In the first place, Extra White glues are quoted at 18 @ 24 cents per pound. These may range in strength from No. 2 to A Extra and it is this strength that will determine their cost. Thus, a good opaque A Extra hide glue may cost 17 cents per pound, whereas an " Extra White " glue for painters' use, which is made largely from pig stock, may cost not more than 10 cents in the same market. Similarly, cabinet glues are of different strengths, and it is this that will determine their cost. The only glues that may be said to have a definite market value, that is, having prices that fluctuate in accordance to universally recognized trade conditions, are imported glues, such as Irish, French, and German, which, in the above list, are quoted with some degree of correctness. There is a fixed duty on these glues, and hence the manufacturer's price, or first cost, is always such as will permit his product, with the addition of the duty, to meet the domestic in competition.

Just as the term "cylinder oil" conveys no information beyond the fact that it is to be used in the lubrication of engine cylinders, and the price will depend upon color, consistency (gravity), flash point, and cold test, so the terminology "cabinet glue" is indefinite unless we specify the strength. Through experience, buyers of glue in large quantities, for any purpose whatsoever, may always inform themselves, to a limited extent, as to what they will be called upon to pay, inasmuch as they are aware that the price will, in the main, be controlled by the strength of the product.

The inexperienced buyer has now only to know that glues ranging in strength from 1 3/8 to A Extra are cabinet-glues, the particular grade being determined by the nature of the work itself, or that common bone glues are useful for box work, all other factors being equal. Such a list will then assist him in forming some estimate as to the cost of the glue on a given day. As a matter of fact, the glues are so classified by the majority of manufacturers and dealers, who are nevertheless reluctant to apprise the consuming public of this, lest they no longer have an opportunity of realizing increased profits through the inexperience and credulity of the consumer.

Cost of Glue as Affected by Scarcity. —The bogy of a high market, due to scarcity of glue in general and the consumer's favorite brand in particular, is one of the chief selling arguments for glue. The safest remark for a salesman to make, when approached as to the cost of his wares, is, "that the price of glue has advanced, generally." As a rule, the consumer has absolutely no way of informing himself to the contrary and thus the way to an increased margin of profit for the dealer is nicely paved.

At intervals there is a genuine scarcity, not of all glues, but of some particular grades. Nor is this always owing to natural causes, such as decreased production because of temporary scarcity of stock, but simply to the fact that a number of manufacturers may agree, among themselves, to hold back their cheap grades for the time being, in order that there shall be an increased demand for them and in this way a better price realized. Again, some astute jobber may gradually accumulate a vast quantity of low-grade glue, thus creating a genuine shortage on the part of the manufacturers, preventing them from meeting their own goods in competition, when the jobber is able to realize almost any price he may ask so long as his stock holds out, or until manufacturers themselves have once more reached their average production of the glues in question.

It may safely' be asserted that there can be no natural scarcity of glue so long as the packing and leather industries are in existence; and these will continue as long as man evinces the desire to eat flesh and wear shoes. Given a number of oxen, sheep, and pigs to be slaughtered daily, there will always be the same number of hides for tanning and hence so much hide stock for glue. So many bones will be obtained from the carcasses, which will produce a given number of knife-handles, buttons, and a definite quantity of bone stock for glue making, with its attendant refuse for fertilizer compost. It is to be remarked that scarcity is usually confined to the low and medium grade bone glues as well as the inferior mixed bone and hide glues produced by our large packing houses. Seldom is the price of high-grade hide glues, produced at independent factories, affected by scarcity; and when this does occur it is legitimately due to lack of stock. These factories are dependent for stock upon the tanner, and, as the latter does not produce a definite quantity of waste or glue stock, the glue-maker cannot rely upon any one tannery for a uniform supply. Again, the tanner may so modify his processes, when dealing with some particular shipment of hides, that the stock coming to the glue boiler may demand totally different treatment than he is accustomed to give; with the result that he produces, for the nonce, a grade of glue different from those hitherto produced by him. In this way a temporary shortage of some one particular grade of hide glue is created; but this does not mean the scarcity of hide glues in general.

There is a greater demand, on the whole, for low-grade glues than for high grades, as the former are applicable to the majority of usages and are cheaper than the latter. Hence the tendency to create a shortage of these grades in either of the above-mentioned ways, in order that they may command an advanced price. Were the conditions reversed, i.e., were the demand for hide glues greater than that for bone, endeavor would be directed to the cornering of these.

Position of the Jobber in the Trade. — The jobber of glues occupies a position in relation to the manufacturer and the consumer that is at once advantageous and unique. His are not merely the functions theoretically accorded the "middleman." Eliminate him, and the entire scheme of things, as regards the conduct of the glue industry, would require readjustment. We refer, not to the small jobber whose stock, at any given time, seldom exceeds twenty or twenty-five barrels of glue, but to him who, through resource of capital, enabling him to buy virtually for cash and anywhere he pleases, carries a stock of a thousand barrels of glue at any given time. Many consumers labor under the delusion that they lose money by dealing with the jobber, flattering themselves that they can buy as cheaply as he. Indeed, this is one of the strongest arguments advanced by the manufacturer's representative in approaching the consumer direct. To realize how little truth there in is this contention, the reader has but to bear in mind that, in the purchase of any commodity, he who pur-chases in large quantities obtains a better price than he who purchases but small packages, and that to every barrel of glue purchased by the consumer, the jobber requisitions twenty. Which, under these conditions, is enabled to buy cheaper? The question is superfluous.

It might seem, at first inspection, that the position of the jobber is a perilous one; that, were manufacturers resolved to shut down on him, he would be compelled to suspend business. This is true of the small jobber, who, through lack of capital, is unable to buy in the open market, as it were, and must confine his dealings to some one manufacturer who is willing to extend to him liberal terms of credit. He can continue in business only so long as the manufacturer who supplies him agrees not to approach his customers. On the other hand, the large jobber enjoys all the advantages and suffers none of the responsibilities of the manufacturer himself. The grades he carries are more varied than those produced at one factory, since he buys from a number. His purchases are uniform. He is very careful to see to that. Again, his resources are such as to enable him to control the output of a number of minor factories, and in this way he becomes virtually a manufacturer himself without having to bother about securing stock. He merely agrees to take the entire output at such and such a price. That the jobber is recognized as an indispensable factor in the glue situation by the manufacturer, despite any arguments he him-self may advance to the contrary, is evidenced by the fact that the latter is ever ready to supply the former with vast quantities of glue at a favorable price. Indeed, to refuse to do so would be to antagonize his best interests. As an illustration, we may cite the sale of a carload of glue (sixty barrels) to sixty separate consumers, scattered over a large territory, on the one hand, and, on the other, the sale of a carload, as such, to the jobber. In the first instance, although a far higher price is realized in the sale of the individual barrels, the selling-cost is proportionately high. In the second, a relatively smaller selling-cost is entailed, with the paradoxical result that by accepting a lower price the shipper realizes a larger profit. Again, were it not for the jobber who is ever ready to avail himself of favorable offerings of glue, particularly cheap grades, the manufacturer's stock would accumulate to such an extent that it might ultimately have to be disposed of at a loss.

In view of all this, it is seen that the jobber is in relatively better position to supply the trade than any one manufacturer. He handles a far greater variety of glue and, by effecting combinations, comes nearer to selling glue under specification than the manufacturer. He can keep his trade only by selling glue "to match," and when a prospective purchaser submits a sample of the glue he is using, this is carefully tested and a counter-sample submitted practically duplicating the original in color, cut, strength and other test factors. The accomplishment of this presupposes the carrying of a large and varied stock of glue, as it is often necessary to combine two or more glues to match the test factors of another. In this way, the jobber has the advantage over the manufacturer who produces but a limited number of grades and these regularly. Again, the jobber frequently recognizes in the submitted sample a well-known make of glue and may be carrying this in stock. He is thus enabled to offer the manufacturer's own goods in competition with him. Despite the frequent occurrence of this, but few manuacturers with-hold their supply from the jobber.

The Consumer's Redress in the Law. — If another argument is needed to impress upon the consumer the necessity of constantly testing his glues, it is embodied in the fact that, unless he does so, he will never be able to recover for losses caused by defective glue. The legal maxim, "Let the buyer beware!" applies with great force to barter in this commodity. An example of the general application of this principle is as follows: If A sell B a horse, and the said horse lacks a tail at the time of purchase, B cannot recover the purchase price, nor could he bring any action for damages on these grounds. It is B's business to note the absence of tail before handing over the money to A. On the other hand, if said horse develop some disease within a few days after purchase, an action against A for the recovery of the money paid will lie, unless it can be proved that said disease was contracted after the horse had passed into B's possession. The law thus creates the distinction between visible and latent defects.

As applied to glue, this principle operates in the following way: A consumer has received regular shipments of glue of a certain kind; for example, a straight hide glue. In color this was, we shall say, dark brown, and the glue was in the form of oblong sheets. A shipment arrives consisting of flake glue of two colors, one light yellow and the other brown. The consumer uses this in the work, which is thereby ruined. It is evident that the glue is totally different in character from previous deliveries. Despite this he cannot legally refuse to pay the bill, nor is entitled to damages for the ruined work, inasmuch as a visible defect existed in the glue. This would apply to taste and odor as well. It is for the consumer to examine the glue on arrival, and, noting the defect, to return it to the shipper or hold it at the latter's disposal. If the latter refuse to take it, the former is not liable for the bill. He cannot, however, use the glue and expect immunity from payment.

Although it is possible to recover for latent defects in glue, it is extremely difficult to prove these. What more difficult to prove, for instance, than that certain chemical conditions existed in the glue which, in combination with outside influences, produced a disastrous result? The testimony of the analyst, however competent, too often demonstrates that the defect was visible and not latent, in the construction of the law.

It would thus seem that the consumer has but little or no redress in the law and must seek protection through other means. He can find it only in the careful testing and comparison of samples and deliveries and the prompt rejection of those that are not as represented.

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