Oliver-Finnie Grocery Co.

...a Historic Memphis Institution   

 

 

In 1860, James P. Finnie arrived in Memphis on the "Silver Moon" Steamboat and opened a small retail grocery at  284 Main and Court.  In 1868 he began a partnership with Joseph N. Oliver, forming the Oliver-Finnie Company, and they soon moved the company to a new location at 357 Front Street.  In 1903, the company began its own manufacturing department, naming their product line "Silver Moon" after the steamer that brought J. P. Finnie to Memphis.  The company moved to their final Memphis location at 7 Vance Avenue after a major fire destroyed their Front Street building in 1904.  The Oliver-Finnie Company operated continuously until 1961, when it was liquidated to settle the estate of Maynard Holt, the company's last president and major stockholder. 

Oliver-Finnie 1888 

Click on small photos to see an enlargement




James P. Finnie was born in Caseyville, Ky in 1834.  He left school at 17 and took a position as a clerk in a general store, where he worked until forming a partnership when he was 21.  In 1860, he dissolved the partnership and moved to Memphis and entered the retail business again.  Within 3 years he formed a partnership with Joseph Oliver.



Joseph N. Oliver was born in Newark, N.J. in 1828.  After studying the making of hats in New York, he worked in that field until 1860 when a branch opened in Memphis.   He headed south, although this was right at the beginning of the Civil War and the hat business closed shortly after he arrived.   Instead, Oliver went into the retail grocery line, and thrived. 

Silver Moon Silver Moon 1885 Memphis Map 1900 Directory 1916 Ad

1888 O-F Envelope 1895 Invoice 1893 Invoice Coffee Tasting Room

1905 Article

284 Main Street:  A very rare receipt from 1870, showing the Main Street address and the partnership name shortly before they moved to their new building at 357 Front Street. 


357 Front Street:
 The land at 357 Front Street had been used as a Confederate encampment for the defense of Memphis during the Civil War.  After the war, Joseph N. Oliver purchased this property in 1886 for $2,316.66, from Anne B. Stewart, a widow.  He and his partner James P. Finnie opened and operated their wholesale grocery business here until a major fire completely destroyed the building in 1904.

< After the Front Street property burned, Joseph P. Oliver replaced it with a cold storage facility, the first of its kind in the South.  The walls were insulated with thick panels of cork and cooled by river water pumped through a maze of pipes pressurized by a coal-burning plant in the basement.  For many years the false windows were decorated with paintings of fish, chickens, eggs, and other foods stored here.  

 

Articles about the huge 1904 Fire at 357 Front St:

Because the building resembled a theatre, it fooled many visiting theatrical companies who assumed such a grand structure would be the house for their performance.  Ironically this building also burned in 1907 but Oliver rebuilt it.   In recent years up to 2012 the building housed "The Butcher Shop" Restaurant.  It moved out because the property owners plan to redevelop the building as residential and commercial.  When Memphis changed their numbering system in 1905, the new address for this building became 99-103 S. Front St.   The Oliver building was listed on the National Register in 1979.  >

       99-100 Front St:  The building today

7 Vance Avenue:  The Oliver-Finnie manufacturing building at 7 Vance Avenue (below) was called a "city within a city" and was in use for 57 years.  It was the home of the "Silver Moon" brand, and one of the show places of Memphis.  The entire seven story building, covering almost a block, was used for the manufacture of high grade candies, extracts, grape juice, baking powders and roasting coffees, and milling of spices.  Built in 1919, it was the largest pure food emporium in the South. 

The Oliver-Finnie Company manufacturing building at 7 Vance Avenue in 1916 and the way the building is today.

 

Candy manufacturing was one of the largest departments, where 25,000 pounds or a carload of candy a day was produced.  They also did an immense trade in roasting and packing of coffee, and the manufacture of grocers' sundries and fountain supplies.  The company had a large force of traveling salesmen and their products were marketed in the Southern States, Cuba, and South America.  Today, the Vance building has lost some of its upper floors, but there's enough left to make out the old manufacturing "city"

 

7 Vance Avenue -1937   

 

Finnie Obit 1912

Oliver Graves

Oliver Grave-Elmwood

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The Butcher Shop Restaurant

Oliver-Finnie Company Memorabilia

The company's brands/products included:  Silver Moon Coffee, Court Square Coffee, Ketch-Me Coffee, Bonnie Blend Coffee, Royal Coffee, Dad's Coffee and Chicory, Silver Moon Baking Powder, Silver Moon Pancake Flour, Silver Moon Buckwheat Flour and 515 varieties of candies - from hand-dipped chocolates to hard candy sold in 20 quart pails.

Silver Moon Coffee 100 Lb. Coffee Coffee Jar Lid Silver Moon Mustard

Fruit Jar Rings Fruit Jar Vintage Ad Vintage Ad O-F Product Snuff
      

     Obit Notice 1912

     1907 Fire Notice

Maynard Holt

1922 Ad

Newspaper items

 1907 Fire

1880s

Bottle

The Victorian trading cards (below) were an early form of advertising.   Typically, they had a nice picture on the front, and advertising or the name of a company printed or stamped on the back.  Merchants and street walkers would hand them out .  With the advent of lithography, it became possible to mass-produce them in color.  This led to the golden age from 1876 to the early 1900s.  Because they were so colorful, folks began saving them and today, they are highly collectible. 

<<<<  Victorian Trading Cards for the Oliver-Finnie Company.   Collection Dave French  >>>>
 
          
 
 
 

Credits

 

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