The Boston House of Equity and A. B. Keith

The Boston House of Equity was one of a number of commercial establishment organized on in the wake of Josiah Warren’s lectures on equitable commerce. It’s eventual failure to succeed in the same way as Warren’s own experiments may have been at least partially the result of the character of its proprietor, Amos B. Keith. The clippings here are simply what I have uncovered of the story so far and shouldn’t be taken as in any sense definitive.


Boston House of Equity. The unoccupied portions of Gray’s buildings, on the Chickering estate, have been leased to the Boston House of Equity. The first store established, at the center of Friend and Market streets, is doing an extensive and successful business.

  • Boston Evening Transcript, 1855-10-29; page 2

Boston House of Equity.

The subscriber would respectfully announce to the public, that having secured the co-operation of men and means, he will open on


a WAREHOUSE for the sale of Produce and other goods, for cash, at the smallest possible commission over the cost of production. It is proposed to receive on consignment from manufacturers of all American productions, samples of their wares, which will be sold directly to consumers from the samples, to be delivered daily from the producers—thus dispensing with all unnecessary middle men, and offering in the buyer as well as in the seller, a safe and convenient medium of commerce.

The Store selected is the six story warehouse, at the corner of Friend and Market streets,—a commodious, light and convenient house for exhibitions of sale. Samples of a few leading articles will be ready at the office of the subscriber, on Tuesday. Orders accompanied with the case will then be received and all information given to both producers and consumers.

     AMOS B. KEITH, 12 Tremont street.

  • Daily Atlas, 1855-11-16; page 2

Boston House of Equity. The new store projected by Mr. A. B. Keith, of this city, has thus far proved eminently successful, say the Chronicle, the retail trade being now upwards of two thousand dollars per day. The great advantages of Mr. Keith’s plan gives to the consumer and cash customer renders it one which is popular with the people. The large store which extends from Friend street 160 feet through to Canal street, presents a most busy scene, thronged with purchasers, and is well worth a visit from all, whether to purchase a pound of tea, an hundred barrels of flour, or “to see how it works.” The House of Equity keep every description of produce, groceries, spices, pickles, &c., either in large or small quantities.

  • Boston Evening Transcript, 1855-12-13; page 1

Boston House of Equity. This establishment has been removed from its former quarters to the new store No. 320 Washington street, nearly opposite the Adams House. Those of our workmen who have made purchases at the institution report that the articles are of good quality and the prices below the sum charged by the regular dealers.

  • Boston Evening Transcript, 1856-02-08; page 2

The Boston “House of Equity” has closed its operations, another evidence of the uncertainty of human schemes. There was, however, a principle in that store which, though but partially developed, a thousand failures could not affect.

“The best laid schemes of mice and men
Gang aft agley”

  • Boston Evening Transcript, 1856-02-27; page 1

The alarm at 9 o’clock last evening, proceeded from the Boston House of Equity, a store established by A. B. Keith, Esq., at the corner of Friend and Market streets. The fire caught from the furnace, and was soon quenched, but the first and second stories were deluged with water, by which considerable damage was done. Three engines were dragged through the snow drifts, to the scene of danger—one of them on runners.

  • Daily Atlas, 1856-01-07; page 2

The “House of Equity” has failed, and it is reported that one of its managers had “Schuylerized,” alias “scooted.”

  • Daily Atlas, 1856-02-27; page 2

“J. N.”—The “Boston House of Equity” (established for the sale of provisions and groceries at about wholesale prices or a small advance upon cost,) and the “People’s Paper,” (pledged to advocate the enterprise,) have both failed or suspended operations.—The principle, however, upon which the movement was founded was a very good one, and deserved to succeed; but in a city where rent and labor are high, such an experiment is doubtful, even if well managed, and this probably was not. It undertook to do more than it had means to accomplish, and broke down under its own weight. We are not acquainted with the particulars of the failure, except that we have seen it stated in the papers that the proprietor of the concern sunk in a few moths some $40,000. The affair, we have understood, was to be investigated, and a report made to the public; but we believe that this has not yet been done.

  • “To Correspondents,” Boston Investigator, 25, 48 (March 26, 1856), 3.


The failure of the Boston House of Equity, an establishment designed, we believe, to supply workingmen and persons of limited or small means, has elicited from the Herald of that city, some sensible remarks on the subject. The success of the plan, and we have taken some pains to inquire into its working, does not appear to be very encouraging, and we are inclined to think that, with few exceptions, the class of parsons benefited by these institutions, is comparatively small, and that they would fair quite as well by the ordinary system of trade, with the wholesome compaction necessarily growing out of individual enterprise. The Herald, it should be understood, is ahead in its circulation of the Boston journals, and goes among the people who patronize Protective Unions. The Herald remarks:—

Among the vast number of stores opened in various sections of our country under the names of “Protective Unions,” there are very few successful. Their difficulties arise mainly from the want of a knowledge of human nature on the part of those who originate such stores. Trade is as much an art as any artisanship whatever. To know how to buy to advantage, requires great skill in the knowledge of markets, and a steady and constant exercise of supervision. This cannot be expected in those who have not been brought up in a practical knowledge of business.

And, moreover, when the workingmen and other classes attempt to organize for the purpose of buying their own articles of consumption more cheaply than such can be purchased of our regular traders, they are to apt to place their stores under the control of some one of their number, who has no other qualification than his loud talk about the manner in which the traders may be circumvented, and the company may be supplied with goods vastly cheaper than such goods can be obtained of the regular traders. Such vociferations are seldom or never qualified to remedy the evils upon which they descant. They are generally men, who never having made a dollar themselves, are wholly unfit to be intrusted with the property of others. And yet, such are placed in the charge of the kind of property we have mentioned, because their boasting of what may be done, has given them favor among credulous people.

There is no doubt that much might be done by a proper organization to reduce the prices of any of the great staples of life, by proper association for the purchase. Take flour and coal, for example. From fifty to an hundred families might join and order one or more cargoes of these articles at a proper season of the year. But such orders should be given by and through some shrewd and responsible commission merchant, who knows of whom to purchase the best article and at the lowest price. And besides, the company thus purchasing should require every member thereof to pay cash down on the arrival of the articles for such portion thereof as he takes. No deviation from this rule should be allowed ou any pretext

Many of our friends consider the trader to be one who makes money out of the community without rendering any equivalent. This is an entire mistake. There is not a successful trader among us who does not undergo more trouble and worriment of mind than any successful artisan. And the proportion of merchants who finally succeed in their business is not equal to that of the mechanics who succeed in artisanship. General Dearborn, many years ago, demonstrated that but a very small percentage of our traders pass through their commercial life without at some period of their career, failing in business, and though an attempt has been made, recently, to controvert the General’s position, by saying that of over an hundred signers to a manifesto respecting country bank bills, which was executed in 1808, about half of these signers were successful, this reply is inconclusive, because we are not told how many of that, half had sometime in the course of their lives. And further for such a purpose as that manifesto was made, the very ablest and wealthiest of the merchants would be taken, and such are not a criterion of the whole class.

If, then, but a very few of our traders who are brought up to the business, succeed, how is it possible that raw hands placed over the charge of “Protective Union” stores can manage the concerns of the companies which own them, without final bankruptcy to such companies? It would be much more beneficial if those who carry out the protective union system would employ some one who had been brought up in trade to manage their concerns—one who not only understood business himself, but who would select assistants who understood theirs. In such a case the protective union operations might effect the desired end, which they never can do under their present management.

The poorer classes are not blamable when they make efforts to get the necessaries of life at the lowest possible prices. Having email means, and buying in very small quantities, they necessarily get articles which are poor in quality, very frequently short weight, and they generally have to pay mi enhanced price, because of the small lot which they purchase at a time. It is natural that they should seek to make their small earnings go as far as possible, and that when they are dissatisfied with the extortions practiced too generally upon the poor, they should endeavor by a joining of purses to get their articles in larger quantities and cheaper. But such combinations are not always successful, and mainly for the reason that they do not intrust their funds with the right persons.

  • “The Stores of Protective Unions and Workingmen,” Merchants’ Magazine and Commercial Review 35, no. 1 (July 1856): 133-134.


Boston, May 2.—Boston detectives are looking for Amos C. Keith, who, it is alleged, left the city with some $8,000 invested though or loaned him on worthless securities. He claimed to be manager of the “American Bureau of Agencies,” and had an office in Pemberton-square. He also appeared as agent for a water motor, and as manager of certain electrical patents for curing diseases. He has gathered considerable money on various stocks, and by mortgaging property for which he had given worthless checks, and leaves a large number of creditors. Years ago, Keith figured in a scheme known as the “House of Equity,” an institution to reduce the cost of household supplies. It was claimed that $20,000 was lost in this enterprise. In 1862 and 1863 he was in Philadelphia as agent of the Equitable Life Insurance Company. He next turned up as the owner of a New-Jersey peach orchard. He organized a company with a large capital in Philadelphia to run this orchard, which was valueless. One person invested #20,000 in this transaction. Later, he appeared in New-York City as agent for a patent soap.

  • New York Herald-Tribune, 1882-05-03; page 8


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.