General Accident's 125th anniversary
16 Dec 2010
This year marks the 125 th anniversary of the establishment of the business that grew into one of our major constituent companies, General Accident.
I was particularly interested to see references to some of my favourite types of insurance, those for neon signs and ptomaine poisoning, as referred to in my blog Comprehensive Insurance.
The story also reminded me of a bygone world now only seen in repeats of BBC’s Open all Hours and offers an interesting insight in to how insurance was sold in that period and the reassurance such cover offered our customers. I have reproduced it in full along with a selection of the company’s advertising material over the years including a couple of my favourite, and seasonally appropriate, posters from the 1940s.
“Yes, sir”, said the grocer, eying me, I thought, a trifle wanly.
“Osborne ? Garibaldi? Digestive?” He indicated a tall pile of 12-pound tins balancing by the door. “I’ve just had a fresh consignment this morning.”
As Bowler Hat turned away to inspect the varied tins, the grocer remarked to me, “I’m afraid I haven’t decided to take out that Shopkeeper’s Insurance Policy yet. I really don’t think it’s worth it. I’m only in a small way of business you know.”
“As a matter of fact, Mr Miggs”, I smiled “I’m shopping this morning not selling insurance, but of course if you do happen to change your mind I shall be pleased – look out!”
The pile of biscuit tins was swaying ominously over Bowler Hat’s head. Even as I muttered my warning, the topmost overbalanced and fell, striking him with considerable force. He collapsed on the floor in a cloud of flying biscuits.
For the next few minutes I helped a pallid Mr Miggs to administer Martell’s three-star to the prostrate victim. He was badly shaken, but the bowler hat had saved him from serious hurt, at the sacrifice of its own shape, and a little later he was able to walk out of the shop with only the slightest stagger, which I suspected was due more to the after effects of the brandy than to concussion.
“You alone would be responsible for the accident, and you alone would have to find the damages which a court of law would certainly award. You told me just now that you’re only in a small way of business. Surely that is a reason for being fully insured against risks like this, so that in the event of the unforeseen, the responsibility would be lifted from your shoulders on to others capable of bearing it.
“You may think that the unforeseen rarely happens, and that the chance of another biscuit tin falling on a customer’s head is remote – but how can you be sure?”
I looked around the little shop searchingly – “What if some infirm old lady trips over that loose floor board?” I hazarded, “Or if someone catches his leg on that rusty nail sticking out of the tea chest by the door, or your neon sign outside becomes insecure and falls on someone? A bowler hat wouldn’t be much help then! Or take an indirect type of accident.
“Only last week I read in the paper that a woman was awarded over £100 because she had contracted ptomaine poisoning through eating tinned meat. Luckily for him the shopkeeper was able to prove to the court that he had only just received that particular consignment from the manufacturers, who were, therefore held to be responsible. But it isn’t always that the retailer comes off so lightly. Sometimes it is established that a faulty tin has been kept a little too long in stock, in which event, if he isn’t insured, the award of heavy damages would probably ruin him.”
I pointed out, “Your fire and burglary insurances can be included, while the loss of profits sections covers the loss you would suffer through interruption of business following a fire. You can include the plate glass in your showcases under the policy, and that big mirror behind the counter, while your front windows can be covered against breakage and consequent damage to the goods on show.
“Another section covers your liability as an employer of that errand boy of yours, and, by the way, if he happens to knock down someone in the course of his duties, as he seems likely to do, judging by the way he takes his corners, your responsibility would also be covered – all in the one policy – simple and convenient, and a 5% reduction in premium if you include five or more risks.”
I finished a little out of breath but it was with satisfaction that I watched Mr Miggs sign the proposal form, partly because I felt that I was being of genuine service to him. “And remember,” I said, as I went out, “in signing this you are handing over your responsibilities to a firm that’s well able to shoulder them, it’s no idle boast of ours that we offer you ‘service that excels’.”