Step back in time: Ancient companies going strong

RJ Balson & Son

In today's fast-paced business world, companies seem to come and go in a matter of years. But if you are looking to set up a company, take heart.

The following nine businesses – many of them small-to-medium-sized concerns – have been around for centuries, surviving everything from war and economic turbulence to famine, plague and pestilence.

Read on and be inspired as CNBC takes you on a historical tour of some of the world's oldest businesses.

By Anmar Frangoul, special to CNBC.com

Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan
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Japan: 1,309 years

Nestled in a picturesque corner of Yamanishi Prefecture in Japan, the Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan is the world's oldest hotel, according to Guinness World Records.

In business since 705 AD, the hot-spring hotel has reportedly been in the same family for 52 generations.

St Peter Stiftskeller
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Austria: 1,211 years

Founded in Salzburg, Austria, St Peter Stiftskeller has been serving diners steaming plates of schnitzel, suckling pig and strudel for more than 1,200 years.

First mentioned in 803 AD by Alcuin, a medieval scholar, it claims to be the oldest restaurant in Europe.

The restaurant has served as a meeting place for the great and good for centuries, and in 1809, during the Napoleonic wars, French troops set up quarters there.

Sean's Bar
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Ireland: 1,114 years

Sean's Bar in Athlone, Ireland, has been pouring punters pints – or flagons, depending on the era – since at least 900 AD: building work in the 1970s revealed both ancient coins and walls made of ninth century "wattle and wicker".

This helped the bar stake its claim to being the oldest in Europe, if not the world. Today, Sean's Bar – which sits a stone's throw from the River Shannon – is serving Guinness and entertaining drinkers with traditional live music.


Barovier & Toso
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Italy: 719 years

Based on an island in the Venetian Lagoon, the company now known as Barovier & Toso has been specializing in the production of world-famous Murano glass since 1295.

Angelo Barovier, a master glassmaker, developed "crystalline glass" around 1450, while the Barovier Wedding Cup, which is also attributed to him, is a Renaissance classic of intricate detail and stunning blue glass.

In 1936, Vetreria Artistica Barovier merged with SAIAR Ferro Toso, and the new company - named Barovier & Toso - was born.


RJ Balson & Son
RJ Balson & Son

U.K.: 499 years

Britain's oldest family-run business has been selling beef, poultry, game and pork since 1515, when Henry VIII was on the throne.

Today, the 25th generation of the Balson family runs the business, which is based in West Allington, Bridport. As well as selling all types of meat, RJ Balson & Son has won multiple awards for its sausages and bacon.

Today's master butchers – Richard Balson and his brother-in-law Rodolphe Boulay – were taught by Donald Balson, Richard's father.

Bushmills Irish Whiskey
Martin Brent | VisitBritain | Getty Images

Ireland: 406 years (230 years as a business)

The history of Bushmills dates back more than four centuries, to 1608, when King James I gave Thomas Phillips, a landowner in County Antrim, permission to distil.

In 1784, the Old Bushmills Distillery was registered as a business by Hugh Anderson.

More than two centuries later, Bushmills whiskey – which is hand-crafted and matured in oak casks – has won multiple awards and the company has even been featured on Irish banknotes.

Hudson's Bay Company
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Canada: 344 years

Granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II in 1670 to discover, "a new Passage into the South Sea and for the finding of some Trade for Furrs Mineralls and other considerable Commodityes," Canada's Hudson's Bay Company is the oldest continually-operating trading company in the world, according to its website.

Originally a major trader of furs in the Hudson and James Bay areas, the company has diversified to become a major retailer. Now, four different stores provide, "more than two-thirds of the retail needs of Canadians," according to the company.

Sotheby's
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U.K.: 270 years

The story of Sotheby's – which is the oldest publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange – dates back to 1744, when Samuel Baker, a London-based bookseller, held his first auction.

More than two centuries later, the auction house has sold everything from Napoleon's library, to works of art by Rembrandt, Renoir and Monet.

Notable auctions include the 1928 sale of Lewis Carrol's original manuscript for "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" for £15,400 ($24,370), and Edvard Munch's "The Scream" (pictured), which sold for $120 million – a world record at the time – in 2012.


Hall and Woodhouse
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U.K.: 237 years

Steeped in history, Hall and Woodhouse was founded in 1777 by Charles Hall, who started out brewing beer for soldiers.

Robert Hall, Charles' son, became owner in 1827, and in 1847 George 'Edward' Illingworth Woodhouse became a partner in the business after marrying Hall's niece.

Today the company, based in the south of England, is owned and run by the seventh generation of the Woodhouse family, with Mark and Anthony Woodhouse at the helm. Hall and Woodhouse now has an estate of more than 200 pubs and brews its own ales.