The Premium World, by Mel Robertson
When I was doing research for my recent article on "The Penny World" I came upon a considerable amount of information, concerning the premiums, prizes and novelties that were offered to children and adults of this area in the late 1800's and early 1900's. This is interesting for not only does it offer a contrast with present day values but also because it reveals some rather unusual attitudes toward other aspects of life at the time.
What is a "premium"? The dictionary defines it as a "reward" or "prize", or as an amount to be paid in .consideration of a contract for insurance or "a sum additional to interest, wages, etc.". However, an examination of things defined as "Premiums" in earlier days reveals that the word enjoyed considerable elasticity in interpretation.
It is impossible to determine when "premium" schemes began in this area. The Burford "Rattlesnake" of 1860 contains no "premium" offers among its libelous and scurrilous
columns. The closest thing to a "premium" offer in the earliest papers was found in hotel advertisements such as that of Corrigan's "Western Hotel" (opposite George Fritzley's) which hinted that if a wayfarer partook of the "high-class fare" of the dining room he (not she, as it was a male chauvinist world then) would get a free bash of "the Old Hoop Iron". However, the inn-keeper hedged his offer by adding the words "then pay and go on your way" thus providing a loop-hole ;n case anyone tried to collect a free drink. With the coming of more responsible local papers such as "The Times" in 1886, "premium" offers began to appear. On June 17th., 1886, for example, the editor of the paper offered subscriptions to the London "Advertiser" at .50 cents a year throwing in for good measure free subscriptions to a choice of the magazines "Portrait World", "Home and Health" "Chase's Receipts" or "Ladies' Fancywork Guide" and on Oct. 7th., of the same year SS Day & Co., General
Merchants, King Street, offered as a "premium" a free china cup and saucer with every purchase of a pound of tea at .60 cents.
The coming of the railroad to Burford Township increased the "premium" business to a marked degree although most of these schemes were not inspired locally but rather by the large stores in Brantford. Most of these were in the form of free, or cheap transportation to sales. There are many examples. For instance, on Aug. 26th., 1886 Thomas MacLean's, dry goods, millinery and clothing store in Brantford advertised in "the Burford Times" that special excursion trains were being laid on from Burford, Pt. Dover, Tillsonburg, etc., whereby for the sum of .30 cents return, customers of the store could enjoy a day in the city. Another example of the same thing was that of Wiles and Quinlan who offered free train transportation provided that the person bought $5.00 worth of clothing. It is strange to note that whereas the editors of the "Times" and "Advance" urged Burford people to shop at home, they went out of their way to praise the "premium" excursions even though such local clothiers as Dickie and Padfield were struggling to keep going and eventually were forced to close.
Another Brantford "premium" promotion that attracted many Burford people in the 1920's was "The Mysterious Miss Dollar" who walked the streets of the city on the annual "Dollar Day". Shoppers were urged to ask other shoppers "Are you the Mysterious Miss Dollar?" If they asked the right woman they were showered with candy, corsets, bird-cages, toilet plungers, etc., etc., which had been donated by participating merchants. This scheme was aimed mainly at women as it would be hard to imagine the less-forward men of the 1920's stopping a strange woman on the streets with such a question. However, it does say something for the sense of humour and the friendly community spirit existing at the time that such a silly scheme would work year after year.
At about the same time Burford people were sniggering quietly at the Kellogg Cornflakes Company's suggestive "premium" hint to "Give your grocer a wink and see what you get"; the "premium" being a box of Corn Flakes. There was a bit of hypocrisy in this scheme when we consider the fact that a member of the Kellogg family was the author of a book recommending the most brutal treatment for
libidinous adolescents. However, the lack of "letters to the editor" indicates that local people took all this in stride and rejoiced in their free boxes of Corn Flakes. In passing, one is bound to comment that anyone with a nervous tic of the eye must have been snowed in with Corn Flakes.
Of a much more acceptable nature was the offer made by F.A. Miller General Merchant (Sprowl and Son building) on September 30,
1909 by which ladies were offered free fashion sheets with every subscription of the "Delineator" magazine at $1.00 a year.
Also in the year 1909 E.A. Burgis, Druggist, (Pryor Harris Jeweller site) started a "premium" offer that created great interest in the Township. On May 30th., the following notice appeared in "The Advance" - "An eight-day clock has been regulated and timed and will be fully wound and started. The
person guessing the time it takes to run down will be presented with the clock.
circles. He said the Bank of Montreal forecast interest rates to decline about 3 or 4 points by the end of the year. Currently there was little expansion or growth because of high interest rates which has added to the overhead on all farms and cut profits.
Every purchase of .25 cents or over will entitle the purchaser to a guess. Any person buying a clock during the contest, no matter what the price and winning the above, will be allowed the clock chosen and the purchase price will be refunded." People flocked to make guesses in the 8 to 9 day range but on May 27th. Burgis announced that the 8 day clock had run for 15 days, 22 hours and 13 minutes. The winner was J.B. Thompson, the butcher next door, who had put in a wildly optimistic guess of 16 days and 10 minutes. However, so much interest was generated that Burgis immediately announced a sale of 8 day clocks at $3.00 each. The sale of clocks, etc., in drug stores seventy years ago should lay at rest the idea that the sale of a wide variety of products in drug stores is a modern phenomenon.
The offering of "premiums" for the sale of subscriptions to newspapers and magazines is quite old in this area and one such offer that was made by the "Burford Times" in 1886 was published in a recent "Advance". However, the hey-day for such offers seems to have been in the early 1900's. One that was rampant in the Township in about 1923 was run by the Brantford "Expositor" whereby anyone selling five subscriptions would receive a large "character" doll. Many little girls took up this offer and never were so many subscriptions sold to fathers, uncles, aunts and family friends. My late sister, who was about 8 at the time, earned her doll by having my father renew his subscription, selling subscriptions to both our grandmothers and getting a couple of "aunts" to subscribe. The "premium" doll was a fine, large toy almost as large as the little girls who won it. Emilie's doll still sits in a corner of my attic, hoping, I suppose, that some day another little girl will play with it. I imagine that there are other similar dolls still existing in Burford attics as they were almost indestructible.
Two of the most popular "premiums" directed at boy magazine subscription
sellers in the 1920's were
Brant Hog Quality Contest
The results of the 20th. Annual Hog Quality Competition were announced last week in Brantford. The competition is sponsored by the Brant County Pork Producers Association. The object being to focus attention
crystal sets and electric motors. A crystal set, to the uninitiated, was an early type of radio which received by means of a crystal. They were not very efficient and required much fiddling with a device known as a "cat's whisker" to produce anything but static. Many Burford boys had crystal sets in the 1920's but I never heard of one that worked. However, great claims were made for crystal sets and one boys' magazine offered one as a "premium" that was "guaranteed to get Los Angeles". This was a great enducement for in the early days of radio there was keen competition among owners of sets to see who could get the most distant station. A late friend of mine grasped this offer with the hope of outdoing everyone. The device arrived in due course and to our dismay the cat's whiskers would not even produce a meow let alone Los Angeles. After much bother the machine was taken to Brantford and set up
on the production of top grading hogs and to recognize producers of same.
Hams were awarded to the seven producers with index scores as follows: Sickle Bros., R.R. 2 St. George, 106.8; Zig Blank and Sons,
within a block of station 10BQ on Terrace Hill. We sat back expecting to hear "Harold Vansickle and his Temple Capitolians" or some, other local talent, but once again nothing happened. Apparently, the only way one could get Los Angeles was to live there and hope for a miracle.
The electric motor offer was equally spurious and enticing. Every boy longed for an electric motor to power the toys he made with the immensely popular Mecanno sets that boys possessed. Many boy's magazines offered electric motors as "premiums" but I never heard of anyone actually getting a motor although many tried. I played the sucker for a motor when I was about 10 years old by persuading my parents to buy me a subscription for "The American Boy" which was giving a motor with every $2 subscription. The first copy was accompanied by a notice saying that the manufacturer of the motors
R.R. 4 Brantford 104.6; J.D. Perry and Son, R.R. 2 Paris, 104.5; Jampen Limited, R.R. 3 Princeton, 104.2; Frank DeSwart, R.R. 3 Princeton 103.9; Roseland Farms, R.R. 1 St. George 103.9; and W.C. Morrison, R.R. 2 St. George 103.8.
had "flown the coop" and there would be no motors available. I imagine that the reply was typical of that given for most motor offers. A perusal of other "premiums" aimed at boys in the 1920's reveals some unusual offers and, in some cases, an alarming state of mind. For example, among the many boys' magazines of the tune were two that specialized in highly moral stories. It is surprising to note that one offered among its "premiums" for obtaining subscriptions, "an X-Ray machine guaranteed to see through walls and clothing". The other offered a periscope. This was accompanied by a picture of a budding "Peeping Tom" using the device to peer into an upstairs bedroom window thereby, I suppose, adding a knowledge of anatomy to the Knowledge of astronomy he had gained by using the cardboard telescope advertised on the same page.
Continued Next Week.
Magazines of a less lofty moral character offered even stranger "premiums" and novelties. A 1926 magazine I saw recently, suggested the following "fun" things for the young sadist -"Combination opera glasses and pistol" (if you don't like the tenor you could shoot him). "Hidden Microphones to spy on your friends" (Let us hope that they became your ex-friends when they found what a rotten sneak you were). "Handcuffs - a great deal of fun can be had-inspires a boy with civic pride", "The Magic Awl - drive it to the hilt in your friend's back without drawing blood... makes the girls shudder... your friend will thank you when he sees no harm has been done" (let us hope that he would then show his gratitude by kicking your teeth in), "Voltameter Kit -make your muscular father scream for mercy", "The Dying Pig - laugh at the life-like squeals of this imitation pig", "The Young American Revolver - an admirable weapon for carrying about...very popular with cyclists". (At $7.50 this "Saturday Night Special" must have been very unpopular with coroners), "The Defender - a combination pistol and spring-knife...very popular with the ladies...effective against tramps". Apparently the idea was that if a tramp asked a lady for a dime to buy a cup of coffee she first put a bullet between his eyes and if that did not teach him a lesson she gave him a "shiv" in the ribs. Other horrors offered to the "fun-loving" child included flexible and concealable steel billies, brass knuckles, tiny pistols and canes that shot spring-loaded stilettos. Further, to cloak these monstrous devices with decency and snobbery their advertisements were supported by pictures of top-hatted gentlemen and "manly" knicker-bockered boys defending equally fashionable and "manly" ladies from the attentions of cloth-capped felons of inferior social standing. When we decry the violence of to-day we have to speculate that "the good old days" were not immune from it even though it was then thought to be a heroic necessity in order to preserve polite society from unsocial behaviour.
Of a more peaceful nature were the "premium" German Marks that one chocolate bar company enclosed with its products in the 1920's. These were in denominations of 100.000 and up. They were brand-new and completely worthless and had been issued by the German Government during the terrible inflation that followed the First World War
when people received their wages daily and had to spend every cent immediately as the money would be worthless the next day and when the ordinary 10 pfennig"pest-age stamp rose in value until it reached 5 million marks - a fact well-known to stamp-collectors. These "premiums" were very popular with Burford school children and I imagine that a considerable number of the useless bits of paper are still stored in local attics.
In the mid-1920's a "premium" plan was introduced to the Burford area that was to raise unexpected opposition. This was a bond-selling programme whereby the Boys' Workboard of the United Church sought to raise money for its excellent boys' work by having teams of little boys go from door-to-door selling $1. "bonds". As a reward for their labours each boy who sold $5. worth of "bonds" would receive a handsome bronze medal. For the sale of $10. worth the reward was a silver medal. "So what is wrong with a door-to-door canvass for money?" you may ask since such appeals are so common to-day. That is very true but it wasn't true in the 1920's and before I go further into the strange opposition this appeal generated, it is necessary to go back a bit into charitable appeals in the Burford area.
It may come as a surprise to many that door-to-door charitable appeals were not common in 19th. and early 20th. century Burford. The hat was passed on the odd occasion to meet a sudden need but there do not seem to have been any organized appeals such as the March of Dimes, the United Appeal, etc. There were no Service clubs as such and the many lodges looked after their chariiaole needs within themselves. The only regular door-to-door charitable appeal seems to have been the Missionary Appeal that churches ran as far back as the 1830's. Charity seems to have been a dirty word locally and newspapers reveal that there was great opposition from Burford people in 1875 when the County sought to build a Poor House. Locally, the names of people receiving welfare assistance were printed on the front page of the newspaper with the hope, I expect, that the unfortunate people concerned would think twice about asking for aid in the future. Local editors jibed endlessly at people who were on welfare and praised the niggardly amounts paid by the Township to such people. Strange to say, though, the "Times" and "Advance" were strong on overseas appeals such as The Chinese Relief Appeal and various
Armenian appeals. The reason for this anomoly would seem to have been a belief that indigence was due mainly to laziness and that if charity was countenanced at home, or made too easy, every lay-about in the County would grow fat off the honest toil of the industrious. Consequently, appeals for charity were made as difficult as possible and people wishing to contribute had to visit a church or place of business where a subscription list was open. This seems to have been the standard approach to the problem and accounts for the unpopularity of door-to-door canvasses. There was, in addition, a feeling that bonds, other than Government bonds, were somehow immoral.
The little boys of the 1920's were unaware of the feeling against door-to-door collectons and we set out full of enthusiasm and confident that we would return in an hour or so, laden with money and covered with medals. What a surprise we got! To be frank no one contributed willingly for not only was there no compunction on the part of well-to-do people to say "no" but also many felt it their duty to lecture us sternly on the evils of selling "bonds". In one house we stood for an hour in the front parlour while an affluent man belaboured us with a talk on the evils of "Wall Street" before he turned us down. The lecture fell on stoney ground as the only "Wall Street" we knew was the row of shops under the Barnea Hall. In another house received a talk on the value of monetary and (of all things) sexual thrift. This again went over our heads for we had no money with which to be thrifty and "sex" was merely a funny way to pronounce the number- between five and seven. Again we were sent out empty-handed. This sort of thing went on night after night and I am sure that if the little boys involved had not had grandparents, parents and aunts who took pity on them, the appeal would have failed. It was in this way that I sold my $5 quota and obtained my bronze medal "Premium"; which, in the one concession to the many pompous lectures on thrift of various kinds that I received, I still have. I don't know where it is but I am sure that if I did, I would cherish it in memory of all the guff I had to absorb in order to get it. Other "premium" schemes of a more acceptable nature that will be remembered by Burford people, were those run by Wiles and Quinlan Clothing and Graftons Store in Brantford. These were aimed at boys and in the latter case, Graftons maintained a large "premium" area on their second floor where boys, in exchange for large red cards that were given with purchases, could select "premiums" of sports equipment such as hockey sticks, baseball bats, balls, gloves, etc. Many Burford area boys got their first baseball glove in this manner. Locally, stores did not go in for such grandiose schemes to attract juvenile business but confined themselves to guessing contests whereby a child making a purchase was entitled to guess the number of jellybeans in a large glass container. The trick in this contest was that the store proprietor would insert a large block of wood among the candy in order to confuse the guessers. The prize was usually the jar of jelly-beans.
These contests were scrupulously honest for while I doubt that anyone counted the hundreds of jelly-beans in the jar, the person whose guess came the closest to the number estimated by the storekeeper, won the prize. On one occasion, a local businessman ran such a contest at a field day hoping thereby to gain another customer. To everyone's astonishment the prize was won by the son of his chief competitor.
"Premiums" are not a thing of the past. Many are still with us in antique shops where the free gifts of earlier days now command considerable prices. One example is the china with the little blue flower which was given away with Robin Hood Oats. Another is the red-white-and blue metal top that was found in a breakfast cereal named "Gusto". There are many others. "Premium" offers have gone to heights completely incomprehensible to people of the early 1900's when the Imperial Tobacco Company's offer of a Moth aeroplane for 2500 complete sets of "premium" playing cards was thought to be beyond the dreams of avarice. Now it is nothing to see $150,000 houses, matching sports cars and 40 ft. sailing yachts offered as "premiums" for subscribing to magazines or papers.
In the 1700's essayist David Hume wrote that "Avarice is the spur of industry" and when we examine the various "premium" schemes over the years I think we must agree that he was right.