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.
At law the general rule is that time is of the essence of the contract unless a contrary intent appears from the face of the contract.1 A contract for the sale of chattels, especially those of fluctuating value, is a contract of which time is of the essence. This rule is especially applicable to mercantile contracts,2 such as wholesale contracts of sale of clothing,3 uniform-cloth,4 or iron.5 A contract for the sale of a cargo of hemp to be shipped from Manila by a sailing vessel direct to New York, or via Hong Kong during the month of April or May is not performed by shipping it at Manila by a steamer arriving at Hong Kong on the third of June and transhipping it by sailing vessel leaving Hong Kong on June fifth.6 Thus contracts to pay insurance premiums at a given time as a condition of keeping the policy alive, must be performed strictly at the time specified.7 Time is not, however, of the essence of a contract to surrender a policy within six months after lapse.8 A charter-party9 which stipulates for performance at a given time, must be performed strictly at the time specified. Thus if a charter-party provides that a vessel shall proceed from Melbourne to Calcutta "with all possible despatch," the fact that the vessel proceeds from Melbourne to Manila and so arrives at Calcutta three months later than she would had she gone direct from Calcutta discharges the contract, even if she arrives at Manila before the charterer has secured another vessel.10 So time is of the essence of building contracts in which a definite time for completing the work is stipulated for;11 or of a contract to build a gas-holder,12 or to complete a railroad bridge by a certain day,13 or to remove a building by a certain day.14 Time is of the essence of a contract giving a license to enter and remove timber during a certain time.15 Contracts to cut timber in a given time other than licenses, such as a contract of employment with the owner, the employee to remove the timber in a certain time,16 or a contract conveying an interest in standing timber, to be removed in a certain time,17 are contracts of which time is not of the essence.
1 Cleveland Rolling Mill v. Rhodes, 121 U. S. 255; Slater v. Emerson, 19 How. (U. S.) 224; Hull, etc., V. Coke Co., 113 Fed. 256; Savannah Ice-Delivery Co. v. Transit Co., 110 Ga. 142; 35 S. E. 280; Underwood v. Wolf, 131 111. 425; 19 Am. St. Rep. 40; 23 N. E. 598; Merritt v. Construction Co., 91 Md. 453; 46 Atl. 1013; McGrath v. Gegner, 77 Md. 331; 39 Am. St. Rep. 415; 26 Atl. 502; Garrison v. Cooke, 96 Tex. 228; 97 Am. St. Rep. 906; 61 L. R. A. 342; 72 S. W. 54; Bounds v. Hickerson, 26 Tex. Civ. App. 608; 63 S. W. 887.
2 Cleveland Rolling Mill v. Rhodes, 121 U. S. 255; Norrington v. Wright, 115 U. S. 188; Filley v. Pope, 115 U. S. 213; Lefferts v. Weld, 167 Mass. 531; 46 N. E. 107; Rommel v. Wingate, 103 Mass. 327; Pope v. Porter, 102 N. Y. 366; 7 N. E. 304. "In the contracts of merchants, time is of the essence.
The time of shipment is the usual and convenient means of fixing the probable time of arrival, with a view of providing funds to pay for the goods or of fulfilling contracts with third persons. A statement descriptive of the subject-matter or of some material incident, such as the time or place of shipment, is ordinarily to be regarded as a warranty in the sense in which that term is used in insurance and maritime law. that is to say, a condition precedent upon the failure or non-performance of which the party aggrieved may repudiate the whole contract." Norrington v. Wright, 115 U. S. 188, 203; quoted in Cleveland Rolling Mill v. Rhodes, 121 U. S. 255, 261.
2 White v. Wolf. 185 Pa. St. 369; 39 Atl. 1011. (Delay would prevent the vendee from cataloguing and ad-vertising the clothing.)
4 Jones v. United States, 96 U. S. 24.
5 Cleveland Rolling Mill v. Rhodes, 121 U. S. 255; Norrington v. Wright, 115 U. S. 188.
6 Lefferts v. Weld, 167 Mass. 531; 46 N. E. 107.
7 Klein v. Ins. Co., 104 I). S. 88; New York Life Ins. Co. v. Statham, 93 U. S. 24.
8 Manhattan Life Ins. Co. v. Patterson. 109 Ky. 624; 53 L. R. A. 378; 60 S. W. 383.
9 The Alert, 61 Fed. 504.
10 Lowber v. Bangs, 2 Wall. (U. S.) 728.
11 Phillips, etc., Co. v. Seymour, 91 U. S. 646; Morrison v. Wells, 48 Kan. 494; 29 Pac. 601; Allen v. Cooper, 22 Me. 133; Johnson v. Slay-maker, 18 Ohio C. C. 104; 9 Ohio C. D. 500.
12 Wood v. Gaslight Co., 1ll Fed. 463; 49 C. C. A. 427.
13 Slater v. Emerson, 19 How. (U. S.) 224.
14 Osgood v. Boston, 165 Mass. 281; 43 N. E. 108.
15 Utley v. Lumber Co., 59 Mich. 263; 26 N. W. 488.