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House of Sandeman

Early History

The House of Sandeman was founded in 1790 by George Sandeman, a Scotsman. At age twenty-five he borrowed 300 pounds sterling from his father and set off to make his fortune as a wine merchant. He warned his father that it might take him nine years before he could return to the family, repay the debt, and retire nicely.

George, working with his brother David, bought a wine storage vault in London, but to save costs he didn’t set up an office, choosing instead to conduct his business out of a somewhat disreputable establishment known as Tom’s Coffee House on Berchin Lane. Apparently this was a common place to do such things; another young man was trying to start a little insurance company called Lloyd’s out of a similar coffee shop. George decided to make his fortune importing port and sherry in bulk. Rumour has it he was the first to have shipped vintage port.

By 1809 George Sandeman has established an office in Cadiz and was shipping Port, sherry, and wines under the Sandeman name. Always something of a traditionalist, he continued to wear breeches and top boots, despite them having gone out of style. He also wore also a white wig, giving him the mickname of ‘Old Cauliflower’.


Sandeman was innovative in its use of advertising and labeling, being one of the first companies to label their port, assuring the buyers consistent quality. Even more famous is their poster, known as "The Don." It shows the shadowy silhouette of a man wearing a sombrero, said to represent sherry, and a Portuguese student’s cloak, to denote port. At that time it was fashionable to use French posters, but the artist concerned was a struggling Scot named George Massiot Brown. He colluded with a salesman to pretend that he was French by abbreviating George to the initial G. and pronouncing Massiot with a French accent, signing the poster G. Massiot. The poster bears a striking resemblance to Zorro, and it was later discovered that the artist, a dedicated movie buff, had created the work in the same week that "The Gaucho," the third of the Zorro films, premiered in London.

Sandeman bought the poster for 50 guineas ($87.40) in of September 1928. Sandeman registered it as a trademark, interestingly enough, less than a year after trademarks were first introducd into law. Two versions were printed; in the first, the figure held a sherry glass containing straw-coloured sherry, and in the second, the figure held a glass full of rich, red port. Three years later, Royal Doulton produced porcelain figures of the Don. In 1933, the poster was reprinted as the world’s largest of its kind, measuring 130 X 29.25 feet. "The Don" is still used as the corporate logo by the company.

Recent History

Sandeman became a public held company in 1952. Eventually it was sold to the North American multinational corporation Seagram in 1980 for £17 million. The following decade saw an increasing emphasis on quantity rather than quality. Sandeman’s Founder’s Reserve is now the largest selling brand of port in North America. In 1991 George Sandeman (representing the seventh generation of the family to make port) moved to Oporto to take control, becoming the first Sandeman to live in Portugal.

Sandeman has a visitor center alongside its head office on the quayside in Villa Nova de Gaia. It also has a visitor facility upstream in the Douro Valley.
Telephone: (351-2) 3706816