Saturday, 15 September 2012

Sepia Saturday - United grocers

Back in 1901, when my grandfather Gerardus Theodorus de Langen was 13 years old, he started his working life. His first job probably was something like a junior clerk in the offices of Eigen Hulp in The Hague. Eigen Hulp, which can be best translated as "Help Yourself", was a central procurement organization involved in the exploitation of shops established in 's-Gravenhage. (The Hague is the colloquial name of 's-Gravenhage, the city where the Dutch government resides.) The shops sold a wide range of things such as groceries, wine and office supplies. 
Legally the organization was owned by its Members, the majority of which were day to day customers.
Company logo of "Eigen Hulp"
Quite coincidentally this weeks Sepia Saturday theme is visualized by the   grocery section of Bell and Macauley's Store in Drouin VIC, Australia. So I can safely continue the grocer's career of my grandad.
Unfortunately I don't know very much about that career. In fact all I know is that some 25 years later he was managing the organization's accounting department. And I only know that because I found the website of Theo van Ewijk whose father was also employed by Eigen Hulp. That website displayed a lot of information about my grandad's employer. The website also shows the picture below.
Eigen Hulp staff on Aug. 29, 1928 during the 50 year jubilee of the 
company. My grandad is seated in the front row, #4 from the right.
Two years earlier he celebrated his own 25 year jubilee. A slightly damaged photograph of that event survived the past 86 years. It shows my grandparents amidst what I presume is grandfather's staff. They are flanked by his managing director and his wife.
The 25 year jubilee of my grandfather in 1926.
When my mother got married in November 1942 and WWII was 2,5 years underway, she apparently felt the need to inform her father's employer. In return the happy couple received a congratulatory letter from the Board of Directors.
Congratulatory letter from the Eigen Hulp Board of Directors
on the occasion of my parents' marriage in 1942.
Some time after this event, probably after the war, my grandfather retired from the company. It is very well possible that a measure of disagreement about certain financial matters, was sufficient reason for him to resign. After that he started several companies in the field of staff training and fiscal consultancy. Gramps stayed with us until a few months after the birth of his first great-grandson Robert in 1967. He missed his 79th birthday by just a month. Contrary to what you might think, I don't believe money was important to him. My grandmother managed the "cash flow" in their household. This is evidenced by the meticulous recording of the household expenses in  a booklet which I still have. Obviously the booklet and the method come from my grandfather but the handwriting is hers.
Household expenses in December 1917. A.o. groente (vegetables), brood (bread), kaas (cheese), kruidenier (grocer) and also huur (rental, 14 guilders/month). There is also the expense for a bottle and teat (flesch en speen) obviously for my mother who was 30 days old at the time.
 She did this so well that some time prior to WWII she was able to tell my surprised grandad that "we have now saved enough to buy a house!" And so they did. That is the very same house that I remember so well from my earliest youth. And that, dear readers, may serve as evidence that if your grandfather works for a grocer, it creates very fond memories for his grandchildren.
For more grocer's stor(i)es, and I can recommend those,
please see here.


  1. I am thinking this is the same house that we saw a few weeks ago with all the flowers? My grandmother also managed the money. A thrifty woman is a great help. A thrifty man to for that matter.

  2. Oh you are for sure right on theme with your grandfather's story. What an amazingly large staff too. What a wonderful life they had and built together. Thank you for sharing their story with us, it was perfect.

  3. @Kristin
    You are very observant, have a "photographic" memory and are absolutely right! It is the same house and also the same occasion. And the thriftiness was in their genes I think. I mean in those days prosperity was not at the level it is today, if any. The era of the big spenders was yet to come.
    As far as the number of staff is concerned, Eigen Hulp in The Hague was a fairly large organization. They really had many shops and if I am not mistaken, also a self operated laundry with pick up and delivery service. But I have to do some checking here.

    I like to thank both ladies for visiting.

  4. I seems to me that it's the wife in many families that does the books. I have been to Den Hague many times when working with Shell but nver had the opportunity to spend time in the city and see the shops. Does Eigen Hulp still exist?

  5. 'Help Yourself' sounds like the Co-operative Society in England where the shoppers had shares and every now and again they would receive 'dividends'. My own famiy were very thrifty and I remember both my grandmother and mother had a divided cashbox where they put a certain amount each week to pay for necessary items.

  6. I enjoyed your story and photos very much. You and I share a "grocery store heritage" although your grandfather was part of a much MUCH larger operation. Plus we now possess those records. Even though logic dictates they should have been tossed in the trash long ago since they serve no purpose really, they tell a wonderful story. You might not have known how clever with money your grandmother was otherwise. Stellar post!

  7. @Bob
    So you know Den Haag! I'm sure you visited the Shell HO in the Carel van Bylandtlaan. It was (and is) a nice building with an impressive entrance/lobby. I know that office as was there a number of times selling our (=KLM) air freight services. It's a small world...
    Eigen Hulp went bankrupt in the 1980's.
    @Little Nell
    Actually the English organization (est. 1844) was the example for Eigen Hulp In The Hague. So you are absolutely right!
    To top it off, there is a 14 metres long archive in the Municipal Archive there. And what is even better, the gentleman I referred to in my post, sent me an inventory of that archive. So when I go there I know exactly what to look for and where.

    Thank you all for your comments. It is as if we are getting to know each other :)

  8. Enjoyed learning more about your grandparents this week. I am always thrilled to have any family pictures I can find, but the papers help us know so much more.

  9. Hi Peter,

    What a great post! I enjoyed the pictures and your memories. How neat that your Grandmother managed the money and saved up for a home.

    You are sure right in your last line. My grandparents owned a small store when I was little, and I have so many memories of it.

    Thanks for pulling this together for us.

    Kathy M.

  10. Amusing that the woman kept tracks of the finance at home when he did that for a living. I guess home was HER business!! Interesting that you have preserved the ledger.

  11. @Kathy
    I am fortunate to have these papers. Studying my grandma's expenses sometimes tells you so much! E.g. between 10/31 and 12/1/1917 she did not record any household cost. As my mother was born on the 31st it is likely that she had to stay in bed during November. Possibly in those days it was quite normal to recover for such a long period.
    @Kathy M
    According to my mother they paid some 5,000 Dutch guilders for their house. That's equal to $ 59,000 today. It took her a little over 20 years to save that which I think is quite an achievement. Certainly if you take into consideration the economic circumstances (1929!).

    And thank you both Kathy's for your visit to my blog.

  12. @Ticklebear
    My grandad probably thought that it was a good idea to take the evening off :)

  13. Like everyone else, I found it a delightful post with some fine old images. I too was taken with the similarities between the organisation and the Co-op movement. But the thing which stood out - was that magnificent logo, such a perfect example of early 20th century design and a thing of beauty in its own right.

  14. I like the "kamer en suite" (rooms separated by doors) with the sliding doors.

  15. @Alan
    I was about to make the remark in my post that the logo was a fine example of the Art Nouveau period when it hit me that this organisation was established in 1878. Now, I don't know whether they had this logo from the beginning but if not, I have no clue as to when they started using it. Maybe one day I'll find out in the municipal archive.
    On the same subject, here in The Netherlands there is still a chain of supermarkets named Co-op. They have some 200 shops.

  16. @Prenter
    The separation between the two rooms also consisted of dividing cupboards. And I remember during the night you could hear mice running between the cupboard and the ceiling... Those were the days :)

  17. @Alan
    The gentleman I mentioned in my post, Theo van Ewijk, tells me that according to his sources the logo was designed in the early 30s. So you were spot on!
    Before that time there was nothing standard really.

  18. The logo is wonderful.

    Frugal people who knew how to save. How did we get so far away from this virtue today?

    Wonderful post.

  19. Borrowing money is made too easy, the ads are way too aggressive but still, people should think twice before paying these ludicrous interest rates.
    I am glad you enjoyed the post, thank you.

  20. Kristin was too quick, as I guessed it was the same house and same occasion too. Household account books are valuable artifacts, as they are often too quickly discarded. Knowing the price of food, or the value of a house gives real dimensions to our ancestors, especially when handwritten.

  21. I'm impressed that your family saved these special items from long ago. Your grandmother had to be smart and savvy with money to save enough to buy a house!

    Interesting how many Sepia Sat. bloggers grandparents were in the grocery business. Great post!

  22. @Mike
    On these valuable artifacts, I wonder what we will leave for our grandchildren. An illegible USB-stick maybe?
    @Queen Bee
    Maybe Alan has a magnetic effect on descendants of grocers :)

    Thank you both for visiting.

  23. What a lovely archive collection on an important part of your family history. Thank you for sharing.

  24. such an interesting post. I thought it was funny too that your grandmother managed the books at home while your grandfather did it at work. Your Grandmother probably never would have thought of herself as a career woman. But can't you just imagine her in that capacity working for a large corporation and saving them millions?

  25. What a great story! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  26. @ScotSue
    I am so glad it is being saved during the many moves my grandparents made.
    Never thought of that, Grandma heading the accounting dept. :) Bet she could have done it. I don't know what the custom was at yours but here, when a woman got married, that automatically meant that she had to resign from whatever job she was doing. I think that was quite normal here until the 40s, 50s.
    I am happy to share cause I am probably telling things also my (grand)children don't know. And now it is available for them to read.

    Ladies, your visit is much appreciated.

  27. Yes Peter, we are all getting to know each other better and that is exactly why I love blogging and especially SS. I have gotten past the age of comfortable travel and sit at home and share in experiences of folks all over the world. I have my blog printed every 6 months and that is my record for posterity.

  28. @Peggy
    I am considering to do the same, having the blog printed. Maybe I'll combine it with printing my genealogy. You have these printing houses that also do orders for 10, 20 books or so. I don't think my book will appear on the national bestseller top-10...
    With regard to your remark about travelling, you can also do that in the mind and that's when blogging comes in handy! So just keep your keyboard at the ready and keep visiting all your SS friends!


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