For a while now, I’ve been wondering about the origins of the phrase, “coal to Newcastle.” I know it means you’re taking something to a place where they already have an excess supply, but I’ve always wondered whether it originated with the idea of taking coal to a coal mining community, or taking burning embers (coals) to a place that had just burned down.
This came up while I was on the phone with Steve tonight and he happened to be near his computer so he looked it up on Wikipedia. It turns out the original version of the phrase was “Selling coal to Newcastle” and it’s the version with selling coal to a coal mining community. There’s also mention of an eighteenth American businessman, Timothy Dexter, who actually managed to do it.
As reference material, the Wikipedia article cites an article on another site called “The Free Dictionary.” The dictionary site has an article which says the same thing. The article on the dictionary also has a footnote saying that it’s a copy of the Wikipedia article. In short, the Wikipedia article cites an article which cites the Wikipedia article.