From feathers to a family fortune
An early 19th-century family business in London’s dockland traded in exotic goods such as ostrich feathers and seashells.
It created a web of trading links with the Far East and when an opportunity arose in the 1880s to distribute Russian lighting oil those links proved to be a unique springboard for success at the hands of Marcus Samuel the Younger and his brother, Samuel.
They outwitted Rockefeller’s Standard Oil by the innovative use of oil tankers and pipelines for bulk distribution of the oil, also known as kerosene or paraffin.
A global oil company
In 1897 the Samuels incorporated Shell Oil, recalling one of the exotic imports on which the family fortune had started.
Soon afterwards the role of a Shell vessel in salvaging a Royal Navy ship resulted in a knighthood for Marcus, later advanced to a viscountcy.
A love for art and artists
Marcus’ son, Walter, was chairman of Shell when he inherited the title and family fortune on the death of his father. Walter also inherited a taste for fine art, and the desire to house it in one location drove his selection of Upton House in 1927.
At the same time Walter was exploiting his chairmanship of Shell to foster young and contemporary artists. Their work lay behind the posters which spearheaded Shell’s distinctive marketing campaigns in the 1930s.