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Byrne v Van Tienhoven

Court of Common Pleas (1880) LR 5 CPD 344


This case focussed on the issue of revocation in relation to the postal rule.

Lord Justice Lindley held that the postal rule does not apply to revocation.

Hand drawing lots of envelopes



Van Tienhoven offered to sell goods to Byrne by letter dated 1 October. Byrne received the letter on 11 October and telegraphed an acceptance on the same day. On 8 October Van Tienhoven posted a letter revoking the offer. This letter was received by Byrne on 20 October.

Van Tienhoven refused to go through with the sale. Was there a contract?

Held (Lindley LJ)

To be effective revocation must be communicated.

Where post is used for acceptance, acceptance occurs when and where sent (provided it is contemplated as a means of acceptance) (the 'postal rule').

However, this rule does not apply in relation to revocation of offers - if post is used for revocation, communication is only effective if and when it is received by the offeree.

In this case receipt of the revocation occurred after acceptance with the result that there was a contract formed in this case.

In the course of his judgment Lord Justice Lindley observed:

... it may be as well to point out the extreme injustice and inconvenience which any other conclusion would produce. If the defendants' contention were to prevail no person who had received an offer by post and had accepted it would know his position until he had waited such a time as to be quite sure that a letter withdrawing the offer had not been posted before his acceptance of it.