Byrne and Co v Van Tienhoven

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Byrne & Co v Leon Van Tien Hoven & Co [1880] 5 CPD 344

Contract – Sale of goods – Offer and acceptance


The defendants wrote a letter, on October 1, to the plaintiffs offering the sale of 1000 boxes of tin plates. The defendant was based in Cardiff and the plaintiff was based in New York, and letters took around 10-11 days to be delivered. The plaintiffs received this letter on October 11 and accepted it on the same day by telegram, as well as by letter on October 15. However, on October 8, the defendant sent a letter to the plaintiffs which withdrew their offer and this arrived with the plaintiff on October 20. The plaintiffs claimed for damages for the non-delivery of the tin plates.


The court was required to establish whether the withdrawal of the offer for the sale of goods was acceptable. The court would have to consider whether the contract had been agreed by the acceptance by the plaintiffs of the letter of October 1, or whether the defendants had successfully withdrawn their offer by issuing the withdrawal by letter on October 8.


The court held that the withdrawal of the offer was ineffective as a contract had been constructed between the parties on October 11 when the plaintiffs accepted the offer in the letter dated October 1. On this basis, it was held that an offer for the sale of goods cannot be withdrawn by simply posting a secondary letter which does not arrive until after the first letter had been responded to and accepted. The court gave judgment for the plaintiff and awarded that the defendant paid their costs.

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