Ralph Starr, president of Wagner for 40 years, said he was ready to pass the company, with its 600 products and 42 employees, on to a larger firm.
``I believe they will be able to build it quicker than we would have,'' said Starr, 69, whose family has owned Wagner since 1950. The new owners say the Ivyland plant probably will remain in operation.
The company was founded by importer John Wagner, who began shipping cigars from Cuba to Philadelphia in 1847.
Affluent Philadelphians savored the cigars and asked Wagner to begin importing another vice, wine from France, Spain and Madeira.
Wagner's family owned the company until 1950, when it sold to a group of Philadelphia investors, including Starr's father. Starr began working at the company that year when it was still headquartered in the Wagner building on Dock Street.
Soon after, Castro's rise in Cuba and a decline in cigar smoking led Wagner to sell its cigar business, and, later, its liquor division to focus on packaging and wholesaling consumer goods.
Later it began to expand into the specialty-food business, including flavor extracts packaged in miniature replicas of early American wine decanters and jugs.
It then branched into seasoned rice and pilaf, jellies and preserves, sauces, and flavored teas and coffees.
In 1977, it was the first U.S. company to sell decaffeinated tea.
Today, Wagner sells a full line of teas, including some made purely from fruits and flowers and a line of Caribbean-flavored teas, including kiwi and passion fruit. Green tea has been a big seller in the last six months, Starr said.
In 1954, the company moved from Dock Street, Philadelphia's historic import hub, to Ivyland. While packing up, Starr discovered an attic of old documents, including cigar bills sent to President Ulysses S. Grant.
Twenty years later, he founded a Wagner museum at the company's plant in Ivyland. It now displays historic shipping documents, fancy packages, and old wine bottles - still partly full. One item came from his wife's collection, Grant's traveling medicine chest.
Rose Spice was founded in 1979 on Long Island. In 1986, J. Stedman Stevens and two other investors in North Carolina bought the company and began introducing its Spice Rack line in drugstores, including CVS, Revco, Walgreen and Eckerd's, and some discount chains such as Bradlees.
Rose's niche is in selling spice in large, glass containers at a deep discount over the price in grocery stores.
Stevens, Rose Spice's president, said he hoped to build on the Wagner name by introducing more spice lines to the gourmet and specialty-food retailers who are already Wagner customers. And, perhaps, by introducing some of Wagner's products to his larger customers.
``They're in a higher-end market,'' he said. ``We can take some of the guerrilla marketing we have used and experiment with them. We will not take Wagner's downstream.''
And Stevens said he may add Grant's medicine cabinet to his marketing war chest.
``I'm so excited about that museum,'' he said. ``We're thinking about how to publicize it a little bit more - maybe send some of it on the road to some of the trade shows or for customers' in-store displays.''