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July 23rd 2003

Goteborg, Sweden



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Licensing and Temperance


IT is naturally to the city of Gothenburg itself that one looks for the most characteristic example of what is now known throughout the world as the Gothenburg System; but the visitor there who takes the trouble to ascertain the actual facts speedily learns how complete is the popular delusion that the ' liquor traffic' of Gothenburg is under the control of a company or ' Bolag,' such control being exercised merely by reason of the said company having in its hands the bar trade of Gothenburg. In point of fact, the Gothenburg company certainly does not ' control' the liquor traffic of the city, though, on the other hand, it is responsible for a good deal more than bar sales alone.
The immediate purpose for which the Gothenburg company was called into being was to control, not the entire trade in alcoholic beverages, but only the trade in spirits, arid especially the native spirit known as ' branvin.' To this end it holds from the municipal authorities all local licenses for the sale of spirits, formerly put up to auction by the municipality for disposal to the highest bidder. Of licenses for the sale of spirits on the premises it has sixty-one, and of these it uses forty-four, the remaining seventeen being not used. Of the forty-four licenses, thirteen are used for spirit bars which are directly managed by the company itself; four are used in connection with eating-houses set up by the company, where liquor can be obtained with meals only; and the remaining seventeen are granted to the keepers of better-class restaurants, boarding-houses, etc., who, however, are obliged to buy their spirits (though not their wine or beer) from the company. Of licenses for the sale of spirits for consumption ' off' the premises the company have thirty-three, and of these they use seven for retail shops of their own ; they grant twenty-three to wine and spirit merchants in return for the payment of about £250 a year each, and three are not used.
The wine and spirit merchants here referred to are prohibited, under the conditions of their permits, from selling the native brandy (branvin), for which the Bolag desires to have a monopoly ; but there is no doubt whatever that they do an enormous retail business in the better class of spirits, and also in wines, over which business the Bolag has no control, provided that they do not sell in quantities of less than a full bottle, and that their prices do not compete with the price of branvin. What the real extent of this trade may be is more than any outsider can say. One leading citizen in Gothenburg whom I consulted as a possible authority on the subject could only tell me that it must be (as he put it) 'very
enormous.' This I could well believe when I found that some of the merchants had large shops in leading thoroughfares of Gothenburg, at a rental of anything up to £400 or £500 a year; when I saw from official statistics that the importations of spirits (cognac, whisky, rum, liqueurs, etc.) into Gothenburg, mainly for distribution by such merchants, amounted (in round figures) to 142,000 gallons in 1900, 164,000 gallons in 1901, 144,000 gallons in 1902, 165,000 gallons in 1903, 110,000 gallons in 1904, and 108,000 gallons in 1905 ; and when, also, I was told (though here I cannot guarantee the accuracy of the statement) that one Gothenburg wine and spirit merchant alone has paid as much as £12,000 a year for branvin he has bought from the distillers for conversion into what is known as ' Swedish cognac,' one of the superior spirits which these merchants may sell. But the trade done by the merchants is, naturally, not confined to Gothenburg. They have the advantages of a large local consumption for the beverages in which they deal; but by means of agents they spread the business throughout the greater part of Sweden as well. Although, therefore, the spirits here referred to may be purchased only by the ' better classes,' they nevertheless form a most important part of the liquor trade as a whole.
Then there were in Gothenburg, in 1905, between 800 and 900 persons who sold beer either ' on' or ' off' the premises. In that year each holder of the ' trader's license ' which every shopkeeper in Sweden must take out was authorized, by virtue thereof, to sell beer for consumption ' off' the premises, no matter what his own particular business might be. How many of such traders actually took advantage of this position is not known, but the number was given to me by the chief of police as from 600 to 700. Of 'on' beer licenses there are 167 in Gothenburg; but in the discussions that arose on the subject it was the question of the 'off' sale that was considered of the greater importance. Under the existing regulations the police were consulted in regard to the ' on' licenses, but had no voice in respect to the 'off' licenses. This was altered at the beginning of 1906, when it was stipulated that all persons wanting to sell beer for consumption off the premises must make special application for a permit, in the concession of which the opinion of the police as to character of house, occupier, and neighbourhood was to be taken. In this way the number of places in Gothenburg selling beer for 'off' consumption has now been reduced from a vague 600 or 700 to an actual 440. The number of ' on' licenses remains about the same, so that there are in Gothenburg to-day still 600 places where beer is sold quite independently of the Bolag.
Nor has the monopoly of the Bolag in the matter even of branvin been an absolute one, for there are in Sweden about seventy-five holders of privileged licenses (five in towns and seventy in country districts) who have not only been able to deal in branvin, but have controlled about 40 per cent, of the spirit trade in Sweden. Their powers in regard to the ' off' trade will, however, be greatly reduced (at the instigation of the
Bolags) under a new Act coming into force in October, 1907.
It must be evident to the reader, from the facts given above, that the control exercised by the Gothenburg Bolag applies to a part only of the ' liquor trade.' It nevertheless represents, as already indicated, much more than the sale of branvin at the thirteen drinking-bars. While the attention of writers on the subject of the Gothenburg System, as adopted in that city, has been concentrated almost without exception on the drinking-bars and their limitations and restrictions, practically nothing has been said by them concerning the retail shops also conducted by the Bolag. Yet the annual report of the company shows that, while their bar sales of spirits amounted to 648,766 litres in 1905, their retail sales were 1,198,697 litres, or 549,930 litres more.
In visiting Gothenburg, I went to some of the retail shops established by the Bolag, and I must confess that what I there found threw a new light on the subject, and one for which 1 had been in no way prepared. I found that, while a very effective control was certainly being exercised over the bar sale of branvin in one set of shops, there was a much larger sale of branvin in bottles proceeding in another set of shops, under conditions which left everyone free to buy as much as he pleased, provided he could raise 1 kr. 35 ore (equal to about Is. 6d.) for each litre (1| pints), this being the minimum quantity sold. The business done, too, in these retail shops is almost incredible. In one that I went into with the British Consul at Gothenburg, Mr. John Duff, I learned that the sales represented a turnover of no less than 360,000 kr. (£20,000) a year, and this, too, although the rental of the shop would probably not exceed £100 a year. The sales on a quiet day were about 300 litres. On Wednesdays they rose to about 600 litres; but on Saturdays they would run up to no less than 4,000 litres—roughly, 880 gallons. This would be a higher figure than the average for the whole of the shops (at another of which I learned that the annual turnover was £11,000) ; but, assuming such average to be 3,000 litres, we get the fact that from these seven retail shops belonging to the Gothenburg Bolag there are sent out every Saturday no fewer than 21,000 litres (say 4,620 gallons) of native brandy for consumption in the homes of the people either in Gothenburg or in the country round about; and those who know the weaknesses of the Swedish populace assured me that the greater part of the quantity would certainly be consumed before Saturday night closed.
I question very much if the well-meaning Bishops, politicians, and others in England who applaud 'disinterested management,' and would fain see it established in this country, have yet realized the particular phase of the business here indicated. If, instead of merely reading books on the subject, or of visiting the Bolag drinking-bars in Gothenburg in the quiet hours of the day, and becoming enamoured with the restrictions there, they would visit the Bolag retail shops on a Saturday afternoon, their ideas of the
Gothenburg System would probably undergo considerable modification. They would, at least, see the art of distributing large bottles of raw spirit among the working-class community reduced to a degree of real smartness and businesslike expedition which could not well be surpassed. I am quite sure that the most energetic of storekeepers even in the United States would hardly fill 4,000 bottles, brought in by perhaps 3,500 customers, in a small shop between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. with greater despatch. At the back of the shop stand five large casks of branvin. These communicate with a series of taps along the counter, each surmounted by a glass decanter-like measure, holding exactly 1 litre of spirit. One twist of the handle, and the decanter fills up with branvin ready for the customer. Another twist, and in just about fifteen or sixteen seconds the spirit flows out of the decanter into the customer's bottle. In a few more seconds the attendant has driven a cork into the bottle (a basket of corks and a mallet standing by each tap), and the one customer will have paid and made room for the next, the whole transaction having lasted just about half a minute, though there is, of course, some waiting when the shop is crowded. So it goes on throughout the day, and on Saturdays almost without intermission, until the arrival of closing-time at six.
I was interested in watching the customers; but as significant an incident as any of those I saw was when a man from the country— evidently a carpenter—came in with a small cask and some bottles, in which he took away 5 litres of branvin. He was, apparently, buying not only for himself, but also for some neighbours who had commissioned him to make their purchases for them. It is in this way that a large amount of branvin gets distributed throughout the rural districts where the local sources of supply may be either very limited or nonexistent, but where the local consumption may nevertheless be considerable.
Reverting to the liquor bars, I can willingly join in the chorus of praise in which all writers on the subject have indulged in regard to the excellence of their design and general arrangements. They are spoken of as a very great improvement indeed on the public-houses in vogue before the company system was adopted ; yet I doubt if that improvement is really any greater, in degree, than that which has been brought about in hundreds of instances in England where brewery firms who have acquired old and dilapidated public-house property have rebuilt, and provided in its place larger, more commodious, and better furnished houses, quite equal in appearance and comfort to anything that is to be seen in the Bolag shops in Gothenburg. One must remember, too, that in England the owners of public-house property are not allowed to make structural alterations without the consent of the licensing magistrates, and such consent is often hard to get in London, and in some other places is practically unobtainable ; whereas the director of the Gothenburg Bolag seems to have a perfectly free hand in regard to structural and other
arrangements. With any approach to the same degree of liberty, English brewers and publicans generally would, I feel assured, produce even better results than those seen at Gothenburg, even if, in many instances, they are not doing so already.
Much, again, has been said of the provision made for the supply of food, as well as spirits, by the Bolag ; and this has gone so far that between 12 noon and 2 p.m. liquor is served with food only—a regulation, however, which does not prevent a man from ordering two drinks and a sandwich (provided he pays 20 ore for the latter), swallowing the drinks, and leaving the sandwich.
But the arrangements in respect to food or meals are in no way superior, as a whole, to those made in many of the ' managed' houses in, say, the Tyne district, which I took the opportunity of seeing on my return from Sweden. Whereas, too, the managers of the Bolag houses get no percentage on the food consumed, and no longer have for themselves the profits on the beer and temperance drinks sold, I found that the landlady of many a modest public-house in the Tyne district, owned by brewers, was getting a fair return for herself from supplying food to customers when the business was not sufficiently large for such supply to be undertaken by the brewery company, although the latter not only encouraged her in so doing, but even guaranteed her against loss. I say, therefore, without hesitation, that anything done by the Gothenburg Bolag in the way of supplying food to either working-class or better-class customers could be more than matched by what I have seen under ordinary public-house management in England.
Then, no writer in praise of the Bolag system fails to lay much emphasis on the fact that the company do not use all the licenses originally conceded to them; that the houses are in no instances in back streets, and that they are essentially unpretending in appearance. All this is certainly true ; but it is equally true that there are bars enough for the business done, and that they are located in exactly those spots (in the immediate neighbourhood of markets and docks) where they can be most readily entered, and where, in fact, they would get the most trade. As for the modest nature of the signboard over the door, that is a matter of no importance whatever, since every inhabitant of Gothenburg who wants a drink of branvin knows exactly where it can be obtained. In some instances two Bolag shops are within a stone's-throw of each other. In one the shop has entrances from two different streets, with a bar at each end, so that there are really two public-houses in one. In fact, had the company been deliberately inspired by a desire to do the maximum of possible business, while getting the credit for ' reducing the number of licenses,' it could not have placed its bars in better positions for the attainment of that end. A Gothenburg resident once said to a Bolag official, ' Why don't you put your houses on the top of the hills ?' meaning the hills which overlook the city. ' If we did that,' was the reply, 'we should get no customers.' ' But is not that what you want ?' The Bolag official did not say.
The attention of the visitor is also called to the reading-rooms and the waiting-rooms for the unemployed which have been provided out of the Bolag profits. These serve a useful purpose, no doubt, but they are not to be compared with the excellent public institutions which certain firms of brewers in England have given to towns in whose welfare they are interested. There is, however, one respect in which Gothenburg conditions are unique: in the same building there will be one set of rooms for the working classes, and another for their social superiors ; but the former rooms are closed two hours earlier than the latter. One can imagine what would happen in an English public-house if any attempt were made to introduce class distinctions such as these —the patrons of the bar being turned out of the house two hours before the favoured ones in the ' parlour.'
Elaborate tables have been published from time to time with a view to showing that there has been a decreased consumption of spirits in Gothenburg under the Bolag system ; but these tables have referred only to the sales effected by the Bolag itself, and have not included the very considerable sales of the private wine and spirit merchants, those of Scotch whisky, for example, being spoken of as ' enormous.' Without the figures which these merchants alone could supply, if is useless to attempt to give any figures as to the ' total' consumption of spirits in Gothenburg. The Bolag certainly, claims a decrease in its own sales (though not at! all a remarkable decrease in the last fifteen years), but the consumption even of Bolag liquors per head of the population is substantially higher in Gothenburg than the total per head for the whole of Sweden. It is also uncertain whether or not such decrease as the Bolag figures show may not be accounted for by the transfer of a certain proportion of the Bolag trade—following on the restrictions enforced— to the beershops or beer-dealers, or to the spirit merchants ; but in any case the Bolag figures by themselves are absolutely worthless as evidence whether the consumption of spirits of all kinds (irrespective of beer) is increasing or decreasing in the city of Gothenburg.
Subject to the observations just made, I reproduce from the annual report of the Gothenburg Bolag the table on p. 27, which shows the bar and the retail sales of spirits by that company since 1875. The figures given in the last three columns of this table are regarded in some quarters as satisfactory evidence of a decline in consumption in Gothenburg during the period in question; but, as already explained, they suggest no more than a decline in the patronage of the Bolag shops; and, taking into account the other sources of supply to which I have referred, and the increased patronage thereof, I fail to find any evidence of a real decline in the consumption of alcoholic beverages in Gothenburg at all. To my own mind, the special significance of the table lies in the very substantial increase shown in the retail trade of the Bolag as compared with the bar trade. The greater the difficulties put in the way of getting drams at the bar, the greater is the temptation offered to men to procure a bottleful, and do their drinking at home. Whether or not this procedure is in accord with

the best interests of the working classes, I leave the reader to say for himself; but the point I must urge with all possible emphasis on all who would judge the matter aright is that conclusions based on the character and extent of the Gothen-burg bar trade, without taking fully into account this still larger retail trade, must necessarily convey an entirely wrong impression.
Whatever uncertainty there may be in the figures respecting consumption, there is no room for doubt that there has been of late a substantial increase in the amount of drunkenness in Gothenburg. The convictions for drunkenness per head of the population since 1865, when the Bolag was formed, are given on p. 29.
It is certain that some of the fluctuations noticeable in this table have been due to economic causes, and especially to changes in trade, wages, and character of population. There is, also, no doubt that some of them are to be attributed, in the case of Gothenburg as in that of other Scandinavian cities where the Gothenburg System has been adopted, to divergencies in the policy adopted from time to time by the police in regard to drunkenness. It should be remembered that, wherever the Gothenburg System is put in force, the local municipality and the liquor company at once become partners in the enterprise, for the credit of which the local authorities will desire that as lenient an eye as possible may be cast upon drunkards, so that the statistics of drunkenness may be kept down. This has undoubtedly been the case at certain periods in the history of Gothenburg, though the present chief constable of the city has the reputation of being an extremely capable officer, who would not be likely to tolerate any weakness or negleet of duty on the part of his men. It may even be that the recent increase is due in part to this greater efficiency rather than to any actual increase in street drunkenness, the figures now only reaching a point at which they should have stood before.

On the other hand, there is reason to fear that a considerable amount of unrecorded drunkenness goes on in the houses of the working-class community, owing to the large quantities of branvin sold at the retail shops of the Bolag for home consumption, the victims sleeping off the effects, and thus not coming under the notice of the police unless actual disorder arises. In these circumstances the real condition of the city is, possibly, even worse than the figures suggest.
The question as to the extent to which the increased drunkenness in Gothenburg may or may not be due to the increased consumption of beer is one I propose to consider in a later chapter; but before leaving the general subject there are two other tables which I think might usefully be reproduced.
The following shows the days of the week on which the arrests for drunkenness in Gothenburg took place in the years stated :

My next table gives a return as to statements by persons arrested for drunkenness in Gothenburg concerning the places where they got their last drink. The table is an old one, but I found there was none other available, for a series of years, and this will serve my immediate purpose:

I warn my readers against putting implicit faith in this second table. It is avowedly based on the statements of drunken men, and the Bolag officials especially doubt the accuracy of the column headed ' Bolag Bars,' alleging that, owing to their dislike of the restrictions imposed, Gothenburg drunkards are in the habit of saying ' Bolag ' when asked concerning their last drink, so as to revenge themselves on the managers. It is also clear that, although the last drink may have been taken in a beerhouse, there is no evidence as to the number of drams of branvin by which it was preceded. The most significant of the figures (apart from the steady advance in the total) are, to my mind, those in the third column, and these, probably, are fairly trustworthy. Looking both at these figures and at the previous table, I find ample evidence to support the view (1) that the chief drunkenness in Gothenburg occurs on the Saturday; and (2) that it results in an ever-increasing degree from the fact that men purchase litre bottles of spirits on the Saturday at the retail shops, as provision for the Sunday, but are unable to resist the temptation of emptying them the same night.

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