Smuggling instructions by mail


In effect from 1919 to 1932, the Prohibition Act in Finland lead to a large-scale smuggling of alcohol. Most of the time people refer to moonshine which professional criminals imported to Finland in most imaginative vessels. At the table of the wealthy section of the population, the glasses were filled with wine, whiskey and other alcohol bottles, as usual. Comprised in Serlachius Museums archival collections, Gösta Serlachius’ correspondence reveals details of their smuggling.

A paper baron in Mänttä, Gösta Serlachius appreciated good food and drink. Consumption of alcohol in various forms was included in the manors of the intelligentsia, and serving it was considered a part of generosity in entertaining friends and business acquaintances. Presentable alcohol beverages were imported just like any other more special food product. Purchase, transportation and customs receipts reveal what Serlachius ordered from foreign retailers before the prohibition, and at which port the products arrived. Sometimes the purchase was made in another way: in order to avoid customs tax, a whiskey acquired by a friend was imported in 1902 under a false pretence of being spirits intended fuel purposes.

Prohibition act that entered into force in 1919 made alcohol purchase more difficult but did not end it. International business contacts were useful: buying wine from a German retailer without importing permit was possible when a German business partner and a senior engineer of another company helped with the smuggling.

In year 1928, one of Serlachius’ supply channels was on Finland’s West coast in Kaskinen where Serlachius also had a lumberyard. Industrialist planned the smuggling in correspondence with the chief of the railway station of Kaskinen. Stationmaster Häggblom had a supply of 23 bottles containing various kinds of alcohol drinks, among others Benedictine liqueur, whiskey, cognac, rum and port wine. The sources do not tell where they originated from. Serlachius gave detailed instructions as to how to pack the bottles in a crate that he had specifically send from Mänttä to Kaskinen: the bottles were at first to be inserted in the bundles of straws delivered along with the bag and wrap a paper around them. The paper must not contain any compromising markings. Normal newspaper was best. The bottom of the crate must be bolstered with straw or hay that could also be used to seal the package. The bottles had to be packed in an upright position and if necessary, some of them could be placed upside down in the crate. On the top one must put again straw or hay, but no culms should be seen outside the crate. On the night before Monday on 20 February, Häggblom send the crate under a fake name A. Mäntynen on the railway to Vilppula where Serlachius received it.

Later the same year stationmaster Häggblom found smuggling too risky and no longer wanted to participate but has no intention to prevent it either. Delivery of bottles was entrusted to Serlachius company’s lumberyard keeper Engström who had been able to acquire altogether 42 bottles of booze, the same sorts as before. Serlachius regarded as matter of priority to receive particularly whiskey, Benedictine liqueur and cognac at the earliest possible opportunity. Engström bought a third-class ticket so that the booze crate could be send as luggage. This time, too, he sent to Serlachius in Mänttä a cargo receipt made under a false name. As a result, Serlachius could retrieve his drinks from the station just in time for Christmas.

The correspondence related to alcohol smuggling proves the fact that often is highlighted in writings about prohibition: breaking the law was not taken so seriously and at times also the officials were guilty of it. It is worth noting that in planning to break the prohibition law, all parties had such an unwavering trust in confidentiality of correspondence.

Milla Sinivuori-Hakanen
Responsible curator

Gösta Serlachius archive, correspondence, letters to and from the following persons or companies
1902: P. E. Berglund, Matti Ingman
1928: A. E. Engström, G. A. Häggblom 1928
1929: Georg Flach, W. Heller, D. Leiden 1929

Lumberyard keeper Engström's letter to  Gösta Serlachius from 13 Oct 1928. Serlachius Museums' archival collections.
Lumberyard keeper Engström’s letter to Gösta Serlachius from 13 Oct 1928. Serlachius Museums’ archival collections.
Gösta Serlachius letter to station matster Häggblom in Kaskinen from 9 Feb 1928. Serlachius Museums' archival collections.
Gösta Serlachius letter to station matster Häggblom in Kaskinen from 9 Feb 1928. Serlachius Museums’ archival collections.