Stevenson Jaques & Co. v McLean (1880) 5 QBD 346

Contract – Acceptance – Telegraph – Postal Rule – Revocation - Offer


The defendant, Mclean, offered to sell iron to the complainant, Stevenson Jaques & Co. This was for the price of 40s and the offer would remain open until Monday. The complainant sent a telegram to the defendant, asking whether he would accept a payment of 40 over a two-month period, or what his longest limit would be for payment. McLean did not respond to this telegram. The defendant sold the iron to another party, but did not inform the complainant of this action. On Monday morning, the complaint sent a telegram to accept the offer, unware it had been sold.


The complainant sued the defendant for non-delivery of the iron and that this was a breach of contract. The issue in the case was whether there was binding contract between the parties and if the telegram sent by the complainant was an inquiry for information or a counter offer.


The court heard the complainant was only inquiring for more information about whether the terms of the offer could be changed; there was no specific wording to indicate that it was a counter offer or rejection. This was in contrast to Hyde v Wrench. This meant that the offer made by the defendant was still valid and the second telegram by the complaint formed a binding contract. While the promise of the offer remaining open until Monday was not itself binding and an offeror can revoke this at any time, there had been no revocation communicated to the complainant in this case.