"Why the strange name?", we are often asked.
Anyone who has ever studied law knows the answer. Our name comes from one of the most famous lawsuits in English legal history, one which set an important precedent in 1893, and which is still cited in contractual cases today. The casus belli was the funny-looking object below:
In 1987, Geoff Holland was a dealer in old prints in Covent Garden. He happened to have one of the original Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. advertisements from The Illustrated London News in stock. A barrister browsing Geoff's stand chanced upon the print, bought it, and asked Geoff if he could get fifteen more. This Geoff did, and it occurred to him as he concluded this remunerative deal that perhaps there was a market in legal memorabilia.
He decided there and then to set up a company selling unusual law-themed articles to the legal profession, and when he thought about what to call it - well, there was really only one choice: The Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. The first company with this name had collapsed ninety-five years earlier as a result of the court action brought by Mts Carlill, pictured below. Geoff hoped that the second one would have better luck.
The name, though quaint and old-fashioned, has the advantage of being recognisable to lawyers all over the world. Law students in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan, South Africa, America and many other parts of the world study the case, and few forget it. Of course, it is completely meaningless to non-lawyers who, for the most part, assume we make soap.
From 1987 to 2005 Geoff used his imagination, ingenuity and wit to put together a unique collection of law-related items, ranging from rare prints to specially-commissioned figurines to mugs, paperweights and jotters. The range has grown every year, and because the company operates in a relatively narrow niche, they have always maintained rarity value. To see our current catalogue, click here.
Success has been fashioned in the style of the tortoise, not the hare. Bit by bit, word of Carbolic's curious products has spread round the legal world, and they can now be found in law offices from Auckland to Ottawa. An interesting and unexpected development is that television and film companies use us as a source of props. Our products have featured in 'Kingdom', 'Kavanagh Q.C.', 'The Firm', and the Bridget Jones film 'The Edge of Reason'.
In 2005 Geoff handed over the reins of Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. to Philip Jenks. Philip qualified as a barrister at the Middle Temple in 1987, then left to publish a satirical book about the legal profession called The Official Lawyer's Handbook. This evolved into a publishing business called Harriman House which Philip ran from 1992 to 2005 and which is still going strong (if investing is your thing, take a look.) Carbolic Smoke Ball is now part of a broader publishing enterprise which also includes the wonderful cartoon greeting cards from The New Yorker.