Fire Insurance

Alphonse Allais invented many useful things, such as an aquarium with frosted glass (for shy fish) and a hearse that pre-incinerated the corpse on its way to the funeral. Apparently, he had a friend who had a business where coffee beans were imported, stored, roasted and sold wholesale. Coffee beans are green to start with; upon roasting they become brown and aromatic, and can be used for making coffee.

Unfortunately, due to a catastrophic neighbourhood fire, his warehouse was completely destroyed. Prudently, both the building and its contents were insured against fire, so he filled out and sent in the claim form, and the next day an insurance assessor visited the site and surveyed the damage.

Now this insurance company was pretty crafty – one ingenious client had claimed for gradual fire-damage to his entire winter’s stock of kindling and firewood, plus coal, candles and cigarettes, and they paid up, but then had him prosecuted for arson and sued to get their money back.

Their report to their client read as follows. “Your insurance policy was comprehensive, fully indemnifying all your losses. The insured value of the destroyed warehouse building was 2,000 francs. The warehouse contents were 500 sacks of green coffee beans, valued at 20 francs per sack. These are now roasted brown coffee beans, worth 30 francs as the roasting process normally costs 10 francs per sack. Assessing your losses overall, you owe us 3,000 francs”.


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