Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Crisco, WWI and the High Cost of Living

Just as was intended 100 years ago, this slick brochure from 1916 caught my eye - but in 2005. So intrigued was  I continued to dig into the trunk that contained about 1000 family letters belonging to the the Nicholson Family Letters of Richmond, Quebec, over 300 from the pivotal 1908-1913 era.

100 years ago there was World War I.

 I know because lately I watched Parade's End on TV, with Benedict Cumberbatch, the Brit heartthrb de jour, and I liked it very much.

It's embarrassing, but before I discovered the Nicholson Family Letters, mentioned above, I couldn't have told you the dates of WWI, or, for that matter,  the date Canadian women won the right to vote.

 ( Fact: In 1917 Premier Borden gave women limited suffrage so he could pass a Conscription Bill. Suffrage was limited to women with close relations active on the War Front.)

It's not that surprising. War is a 'man thing' and the Canadian history book, Canada Then and Now, used by my high school in the burbs of Montreal contained not a word about woman suffrage.

So, pre- 2005, I could have told you about the Pre-Raphaelites and Oscar Wilde and La Belle Epoque, and about the Epicurians in Ancient Greec but not the dates of the WWI.

My husband, who doesn't care about high culture, could have told you though. He likes to watch the History Channel.

So, about 10 years ago, when I found that family trunk with the Nicholson letters and opened the top about 5 inches (and the trunk was stuck under a shelf) and rather bravely reached in and pulled out (first thing) an advertising  for Crisco from 1916, addressed to someone called Mrs. N. Nicholson of Richmond, Quebec,  I didn't understand the significance of the date.

And, as it happens, the family historian, my husband's mother, Marion, a grand daugther of Mrs. Ni. Nicholson, had passed away by that time.

Back then, in 2005, I just thought the flyer was cool because it contained such slick advertising copy.(I've worked as a copywriter in radio and various agencies back in the 80's.)

 It was a 3 fold card with a friendly letter on the back that pretended to be from the local grocer, in this case Mr. Mac Rae, but was really from the mind of a Madison Avenue advertising professional. (Well, a Chicago advertising professional.)

I know good copy when I see it and this is good copy. 

I grew up in the 60's eating my mother's delicious cakes made from Crisco shortening. This particular advertisement had a panel for a coupon (in the signature style of woman advertising pioneer Helen Landsdowne Resor) that Margaret likely used. Waste not, want not  was still the motto of the day for housewives.

My husband's great grandmother wasn't hooked at all. I know because her 1917 butter bills were also in the trunk! The price of milk and butter skyrocketed during the WWI years, the reason why this 3 panel direct mail advertisement was sent around to women like Margaret, who were usually loathe to change their culinary ways.

Not Bonne Over Here, the Nicholson Letters from WWI can be find here on Kindle. There are lots of complaints about the rising cost of living in the letters..