It pays to advertise
by Mel Robertson
ARE YOU TIRED of going to the Post Office on a Monday morning and dumping the heaps of advertising material the Post Office is paid to inflict on you? Are you tired of receiving letters telling you that if you will spend $95 to buy a book on "The Metaphysical Philosophy of Two-Ply Toilet Paper", you may have one chance in 10 million of winning a big car or a big prize? Are you tired of receiving letters stamped all over with "Open Immediately", "Special Delivery", etc., telling you that you are the only person in Bur-ford who has been selected for a $50 million prize only to note in the open boxes behind the counter at the Post Office that everyone else in Burford has received the same distinctive envelope?
If you are, don't bother to read this article further for it concerns the power and value of advertising and a bit of local history on the subject.
Advertising is the life-blood of weekly papers and of most of the large dailies. Indeed, a big daily I receive uses most of its space for big ads, articles on how abusive and rotten all men are, and how our most vicious criminals should be treated as misunderstood Canadian "folk heroes".
Advertising has been with us from the beginning of time and, although I cannot find any Biblical ads for family tours to the land of Caanan, it is evident that the vast crowds that were drawn to Biblical events were drawn by some sort of advertising like the "Playground Telegraph" I wrote about some time ago. By this I mean the spreading of news by dispatching children. Such advertising was evident in Burford on Feb. 24,1836 when in the late afternoon of a wet, miserable day, children, running in all directions, were able to pass word of a church service that filled the local school at 7:00 p.m. Another example of "word-of-mouth" advertising was the Iranian Fundamentalist Revolution in which people were agitated by the secret dissemination of inflammatory tapes.
While there is little doubt that Burford area businesses and organizations placed ads in Brantford papers before 1886, this article will concern only advertising in Burford papers. This began with the establishment of the "Burford Times" in 1886 when advertising rates were published as follows - ".05 cents a line for first insertion and .02 cents a line for subsequent insertions." Business cards were $3 per year for 6 lines or under. "Lost and Found" ads were $1 for 4 insertions not to exceed 10 lines with "cash in advance". Store ads were $50 a year for one column, $25 for half a column and $15 for a quarter column. These rates may seem low in 1995, but we must remember that in 1886, $1 a day was a standard wage for many jobs and any concert that made $50 was considered to be a financial success. These rates were greeted with enthusiasm and the "Times" issue of Jan. 28, 1886 contained professional cards for 5 doctors and 4 lawyers, offers to loan money, and
ads for hotels in Bishopsgate, Harley and Burford. Of these it is interesting to note that all of the hotels offered good cigars, good liquor and good food without mentioning overnight accommodation. This would seem to indicate that the hotels catered to transient stoppers and cigar smokers, and not to overnignt guests.
The back page of the Jan. 28 issue of the "Times" contained some ads that warrant comment. For example, Whittaker Bros, declared that they catered to both man and beast by offering fresh and cured meat to people and "chop pats" and "middlings" to animals. S.S. Day offered to take any kind of farm produce in, exchange for groceries, dry goods, coal oil or bread (how about a load of
baker who would produce high-quality bread on the spot. D.R. Hamilton titillated his customers by running an ad that showed a naked cherub wearing glasses measuring a lady's foot and in the process showing a couple of inches of frilled petticoat. Foster Bros, offered "price low down" funerals in Burford and Scotland that included "ordered goods".
However, the ad that would create controversy today was that of E.G. Hillgartner, a harness maker, which showed a stage-type Irishman about to hit a little man "alongside the head" and saying "And don't you forget it". Such an ad in 1995 would be considered a racial slur and the editor would have been subjected to disciplinary action from our all-powerful "Human Rights Commission". However, in 1886, it was standard practice to make fun of Irishmen and Scotsmen and as a child of Scottish descent, I had to put up with countless stupid "jokes" suggesting that Scotsmen were cheap skates. Indeed, older people will recall that John Patten, a Burford resident of impeccable Scottish descent, made a habit of collecting "Scottish jokes" and telling them to other Scotsmen with great amusement all round. The difference between 1886 and 1995 seems to be that in 1886, people were intelligent enough to laugh at themselves without referring some trivial and stupid joke to the Supreme Court.
Another unusual feature of early papers was the way correspondents writing for "Cathcart Crullers", "Harley Haps" and "Scotland Scraps" managed to get "freebee" ads into their columns. In fact, on Sept. 20, 1886, over 30 items that could be classified as "freebees" were inserted.
One example of a "freebee" was a news item in "Harley Haps" of Jan. 28, 1886, in which the correspondent urged "Professor Treat" to advertise his "pain killer" more often for "all the boys are asking for it." Such a "freebee" would seem to indicate that the "pain killer" was actually a form of rot-gut home brew. On some occasions, even the "Times" editor was carried away by the "free-bee" craze as the following examples will confirm: On March 20,1886, the editor urged people to patronize Whittaker's store where a new case of oysters was available. On May 20 of the same year, Whittaker's got another
"freebee" from the editor who wrote "Whit-taker Bros, have bought some good beef cattle that should make good eating at .07 cents a pound." Then, on June 19, the editor urged people to go to Henry Cox' store where 25 chests of new tea had been purchased.
Another form of "freebee" ad were the editor's reviews of Brantford theatre productions in which he praised the "highly moral" shows and condemned as "morally degrading" the "high kicks and low jokes" type of show which "did not reveal as much as they had promised." (Just what did the editor expect for 10 cents?)
By 1909, the cost of ads had not increased, but the type of ad had changed considerably. For example, the company of Dickie & Pad-field clothiers (now site of Knechtel's) advertised that they wanted 1,000 men to come in and buy 1,000 pairs of socks they had in stock. Then as summer began they urged all men to come in, drop their winter "drawers" and buy more suitable summer underwear. However, this form of advertising did not seem to encourage business for, shortly after, the store went bankrupt presumably leaving its creditors with 1,000 pairs of socks and a pile of dirty winter "drawers". A much more successful type of ad was that of the Aulsey-brook Bros. This consisted of half a woman's face with the caption "Keep your face in this place. We have something to offer." This ad caused considerable curiosity among people who did not know of Aulseybrook's sense of humour. Another unusual form of advertising was that of C.F. Saunders Insurance Co. which inserted copies of cheques people had received to pay for wind or fire damage.
In 1915, advertising had taken another step forward and the "Advance" included this one: "Wanted: a bright, refined and energetic woman who will measure and take special orders for custom-made corsets in their own home. This is a dignified way to make a good income. Previous experience unnecessary. Instructions and training free." One has to wonder, of course, how this "bright, refined and energetic woman" would have reacted if she had been confronted by a potential purchaser of one of the many male "corsets" that were being advertised at the time. Other unusual ads appearing in the pre-printed section "Dr. Dye's celebrated voltaic belt and suspensary" which through electric power could cure "nervous debilitation and loss of manhood" with instructions included in "a sealed envelope". For people with "falling sickness", there was "Dr. Root's famous medication" and, if all that failed, Professor Chapman offered to paint portraits of corpses.
The local "Times" and "Advance" were not, of course, the only local source of advertising, for many rural families subscribed to "The Family Herald & Weekly Star" and the American "Rural New Yorker". These papers offered a great variety of advertising on almost every subject. I was fortunate a few years ago to acquire a copy of the "Rural New Yorker" which Morland Alton had discovered behind the wall of an old house he was demolishing. Among ads in this paper was
one for an "Aromatic French Telescope" for $4.50, and "wonder of all wonders" - a patented "leg spreader". This was a complete "poser" for me, for while I realize that people have to spread their legs now and then to maintain their balance, etc., I did not know that there were "patented devices" to assist them. Of course, it is possible that the "patented leg spreader" was needed to operate the "Aromatic French Telescope".
Other popular forms of advertising in earlier days were those urging people to take part in local contests. One of the most popular of these was a guessing contest run by Ernie Burgis, local pharmacist, in which a prize was offered to the person who guessed when Burgis' clock would stop. Another was run by the Kellogg Company. The slogan of this well-advertised contest was "Give your grocer a wink and see what you get". Women who had the nerve to do this in a day when a wink signified much more than a wink, received a free box of com flakes. No prize was mentioned for any man who dared to wink at a local grocer. In a day when men did not wink at each other, he probably got a punch in the nose. However, when we note that Dr. Kellogg's idea of a healthy body and a healthy mind was five enemas a day, it is to be hoped that some restriction was placed on the awards his contest was prepared to offer.
Some ads in the early "Times" defy explanation for, whereas the editor frequently damned the use of alcohol and praised the activities of the local Temperance Society, he devoted much of the back page of the "Times" to an ad entered by Walsh Brothers of Brantford extolling the virtues of Walsh Brothers Golden Slipper Whiskey. This was accompanied by testimonials from physicians declaring that the beverage was the only cure for a variety of diseases; without which (as one doctor wrote), we would be deprived of "all the medicine in the Pharmacopia". Another unusual ad appeared in 1886 when Muir Brothers of Burford announced that land salt and land plaster was available in 200 pounds bags. This emphasized the fact that the bags cost a trifle and were the ideal way to sell these products. The ad expressed the hope that this would be the future way of selling many things. When we
this early reference to "bagging" is most interesting.
And so, in the past 110 years, Burford area people have been urged to buy many things in many ways. Advertising has progressed to a point where nothing comes in "a sealed envelope". Indeed, many of the four lettered words that Sam Smye, the Burford Public School caretaker, hastily scrubbed from the board fence behind the school, have become common advertising expressions and many common ailments such as constipation and incontinence, etc., get thorough examination in TV ads. People who tapped their toes in the 1920s when the radio played the tune "Anything Goes" did not realize how prophetic the song was going to be.
Time marches on, but I am still curious to know if the "French Aromatic Telescope" "empowered" people to detect distant stinks.