This section is from the book "The Law Of Contracts", by William Herbert Page. Also available from Amazon: Commercial Contracts: A Practical Guide to Deals, Contracts, Agreements and Promises.
The nature of the offer from this point of view is a question of construction of the terms of the offer, as explained by admissible evidence. The following examples serve to illustrate offers which are not intended to create legal relations on acceptance. A statement by A to B of the price at which A will sell certain property, is not equivalent to an offer by A to B to sell such property at such price; and B can not, by accepting such alleged offer, hold A upon a contract.1 If A writes, asking if certain realty was for sale and if so "telegraph lowest cash price;" and B's reply quotes a price; and A replies agreeing to buy at that price,2 or A lists property with B for sale at a specified price, and B notifies A that he will take it at that price;3 or A writes to B, "I should hate to see these lands go at $1,600 a piece net to me, but if you can find a buyer at that and get your commission above it, we will try to put the deal through," and B accepts;4 or the owner of an interest in property telegraphs that he would not consider less than a certain amount therefor,5 or A asks B, the owner of certain property, if he will take a certain price therefor, and B attempts to accept such alleged offer and . compel A to perform such contract,6 or A writes to B, "We are authorized to offer Michigan fine salt in full carload lots of eighty to ninety-five barrels," B telegraphs, "Your letter of yesterday received and noted. You may ship me two thousand barrels of Michigan fine salt as offered in your letter;"7 or where A wrote to B, "We have a few jars that we can offer you at this time for immediate acceptance," the price and place of delivery being given,8 no offer has been made in either case and accordingly the attempted acceptance does not constitute a contract. If A telegraphs, "Kindly advise us by wire Monday if you can use" a certain number of barrels at a certain price, and B replies, "We accept your offer," A has made no offer and B's acceptance can not complete the contract. As a result, it was held that if B's telegram were delayed until Tuesday, B had no right of action against the telegraph company, since he would have not had a contract if the telegram had been transmitted on Monday.9 A wrote to B as follows: "I have about 1.800 bushels, or thereabouts, of millet seed, of which I am mailing you a sample. This millet is reclcaned and was grown on sod and is good seed. I want $2.25 per cwt. for this seed - f. o. b. Lowell;" and A replied accepting such offer. It was held that such letter was not an offer, but a mere request for offers.10 A wrote to a manufacturer, B, asking for a quotation for a certain quantity of goods like the enclosed sample, and the shortest time for delivery; and B replied enclosing a sample, and giving the price for the quantity specified and the time of delivery.
2 England. Harvey v. Facey (H. L. E.) (1893), A. C. 552.
Illinois. Chicago, etc., By. v. Jones, 53 111. App. 431; Maclay v. Harvey, 90 III. 525, 32 Am. Rep. 35; Chytraus v. Smith, 141 III. 231, 30 N. E. 450.
Maine. Sellers v. Warren, 116 Me. 350, 102 Atl. 40.
Massachusetts. Lyman v. Robinson, 96 Mass. (14 All.) 242; May v. Ward, 134 Mass. 127; Sibley, v. Felton, 156 Mass. 273, 31 N. E. 10; Montgomery, Ward & Co. v. Johnson, 209 Mass. 89, 95 N. E. 290.
Michigan. Peek v. Novelty Works, 29 Mich. 313; Ahearn v. Ayers, 38 Mich. 692.
Tennessee. Olds v. Marble Co. (Tenn. Ch. App.), 48 S. W. 333.
Wisconsin. Moulton v. Kershaw, 59 Wis. 316, 48 Am. Rep. 516, 18 N. W. 172.
1 England. Harvey v. Facey (1893), A. C. 552.
Ireland. Boyers v. Duke (1905), 2 Ir. R. 617.
Iowa. Knight v. Cooley, 34 la. 218; Lavallcur v. IIahn, 167 la. 269, 149 N. W; 257.
Maine. State v. Peters, 91 Me. 31, 39 Atl. 342.
Minnesota. Beaupre v. Pacific & Atlantic Telegraph Co., 21 Minn. 155.
Nebraska. Nebraska Seed Co. v. Harsh, 98 Neb. 89, L. R. A. 1915F, 824, 152 N. W. 310.
North Carolina. Cherokee Tanning Extract Co. v. Western Union Telegraph Co., 143 N. Car. 376, 118 Am. St. Rep. 806, 55 S. E. 777.
Pennsylvania. Allen v. Kirwan, 159 Pa. St. 612, 28 Atl. 495.
South Dakota. Babcock v. Armsby, 18 S. D. 358, 100 N. W. 759.
2 Harvey v. Facey (H. L. E.) (1893), A. C. 552. A similar case is Talbot v. Pettigrew, 3 Dak. 141, 13 N. W. 576.
3 Lava11eur v. Hahn, 167 Ia. 269, 149 N. W. 257.
4 Babcock v. Ormsby, 18 S. D. 358, 100 N. W. 759.
5 Sellers v. Warren, 116 Me. 350, 102 Atl. 40.
6 Cahaba Coal Co. v. Veitch, 186 Ala, 220, 65 So. 75.
7 Moulton v. Kershaw, 59 Wis. 316, 48 Am. Rep. 516, 18 N. W. 172.
8 Allen v. Kirwan, 159 Pa. St. 612, 28 Atl. 495.
9 Cherokee Tanning Extract Co. v. Telegraph Co., 143 N. Car. 376, 118 Am. St. Rep. 806, 55 S. E. 777.
10 Nebraska Seed Co. v. Harsh, 98 Neb. 89, L. R. A. 1915F, 824, 152 N. W. 310.
A replied, asking B to deliver such quantity in accordance with such terms as soon as possible, and asking a quotation for a larger size and greater quantity of the article for future delivery, and giving references as to A's standing. It was held that B's letter was not an offer, but merely a quotation of prices to induce A to make an offer; and that since such offer was not accepted, no contract had come into existence.11 A table of rates sent in answer to a general inquiry, subject to change at short notice, can not be accepted so as to make a contract.12 If A is offered a check drawn by X upon a bank B, and A inquires of such bank whether such check is good for such amount, the reply of the bank that such check is good, does not amount to an unconditional promise to pay such check, and it is not equivalent to a certification thereof.13 An advertisement that a certain train carried "free reclining chair cars" has been held not to be an offer which could be accepted by taking transportation on such train, unless the passenger can further show that he was misled or suffered loss.14 So a statement admitting a contingent liability, supposed by the writer to exist already, is not an offer to discharge such liability.15 So an advertisement or request for bids is not an offer to be accepted by the successful bidder, but a request for offers from bidders which may be accepted or not, as the party asking for bids chooses.16 So the trustees of a fund which was to be devoted to providing a scholarship for the pupil of a certain school who should pass the best examination in certain subjects, do not make an offer, by merely announcing an examination without offering to award the scholarship to the pupil passing with the highest grades at such examination.17 If A states that the price of certain goods is a certain amount per case and that he has a certain number of cases, and B in reply says that he thought that there were more cases, and that he would take the amount which A said he had, and the larger amount which B thought that A had, if there should be so many in fact, it is said that such conversation is not a contract.18 Putting in the window a card showing that a certain article is wished, is not an offer, but is a request to the seller of such article to make an offer therefor.19 If B writes to A to inquire what quantity of certain articles A can furnish, what the price will be and when A can furnish such articles, such inquiry is not an offer, and A's reply giving such information is not an offer.20 If the information as to prices is given in such a way as to show that the person who gives it is not sure of the accuracy of such statements, it is even clearer that such statement is not a promise.21
11 Boyers v. Duke (1905), 2 Ir. R. 617.
12 Chicago, etc., Ry. Co. v. Jones, 53 III. App. 431.
13 First National Bank v. Commercial Sayings Bank, 74 Kan. 606, 118 Am. St. Rep. 340, 8 L. R. A. (N.S.) 1148, 87 Ac. 746.
14 St. Louis, etc., Ry. Co. v. Hardy, 65 Ark. 134, 17 S. W. 711.
15 Russell v. Blair, 18 Wash. 339, 51 Ac. 477; Bunker v. Blair, 14 Wash. 106. 44 Ac. 122.
16 United States. Goldberg v. Daniels, 281 U. S. 218, 58 L. ed. 191.
Illinois. Kelly v. Chicago, 62 111. 279.
Maine. Howard v. Industrial School, 78 Me. 230, 3 Atl. 657.
Massachusetts. Edge Moor Bridge Works v. County of Bristol, 170 Mass. 528, 49 N. E. 918.
Missouri. Coquard v. School District, 46 Mo. App. 6.
New York. Smith v. New York, 10 N. Y. 504.
Pennsylvania. Leskie v. Haseltine, 155 Pa. St. 98, 25 Atl. 886.
17 Rooke v. Dawson (1895), 1 Ch. 480.
Since the difference between an offer of a promise and a request for quotations, information, and the like, turns on the intention of the party who makes such statement, as deduced by the language used by him and the surrounding circumstances, the line between requests for quotations, or quotations for prices on the one hand, and offers which are intended on acceptance to establish contractual relations on the other hand, is not easy to trace.22