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C’est Vrai: No hard sales here

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Jim Bradshaw

I think I’ve confessed before that I love to read advertisements in old newspapers, perhaps more than most of the stories they contain. The ads mirror a simpler time, and compared to the constant blast of advertising from every direction these days, their claims are usually so understated that they can strike the modern ear as downright funny.
One of them that caught my eye while browsing through some papers from 1900 was the ad for the Neveu store “near the courthouse” in Lafayette for a new line of Standard Perfection washing machines. There’s no hard sell here, the ad claims only: “Lots of families in town are using them. They are fine.”
In the Jennings Daily Record, the Jennings Hardware Store made an even slighter claim in asking customers to look at its line of refrigerators, cream freezers, and gasoline stoves: “We can interest you.” There wasn’t even a promise to sell you something, just to get you interested.
Ophelias Bourque, the furniture dealer in Abbeville, had a similar ad, inviting the public “to call and get prices before buying as he will make it interesting.”
The ad by Charles Oudin, “The People’s Friend,” in Rayne, simply suggested that anyone who saved nickels and dimes would find just the bargain they needed at his place. The ad didn’t even mention what he sold; presumably the people of Rayne knew that.
Exotica apparently was the stock in trade for New Iberia rug merchant R.S. McMahon. He challenged, “See if you can think of something I cannot furnish.” Among his advertised wares were American Grass Rugs, “a serviceable novelty” for $1 to $3.50, and Brussels Carpets in “handsome colors and designs.”
New Iberia undertaker and funeral director John Broussard also promoted his livery stable in his ad. Both services, he promised, would be more than satisfactory.
At the H.M. Durke Farm near Royville (Youngsville today) buyers could always find mules that were “healthy, young, and broken” for cash or on time payment. Buyers could bring their own vet to look over the stock.
Eckart, the jeweler, (no first name supplied) simply asked that shoppers bear his prices in mind when they needed a watch repaired or jewelry cleaned. A dime would cover most jewelry repairs. Complicated watch repairs might cost 50 cents.
Charles Shott sold Pittsburgh coal “by the ton, barrel, or bucket” at low prices because he got it “when the market was down.” A.G. Emmer, the dentist, promised “strictly first class work only,” which was certainly reassuring. At the Attakapas Sanitarium in New Iberia “treatment of disease by electricity” was a specialty, which sounds less than inviting to me.
There had just been a fire in the Finnegan Company warehouse in Opelousas in March 1900, but manager J.R. Clements promised he would still buy hides, wool, fur, and beeswax “at the highest market price.” Eddy’s Saloon & Pool and Billiards Parlor, advertised “the very best” in liquor” and said the “jug and flask trade” was a specialty. I guess you brought your own mason jar and let him fill it with some of the finest.
An ad in several papers for Dr. Brandon’s Compound for indigestion and dyspepsia makes no claims at all. It simply notes that it is sold in drug stores and saloons (which may be a clue to its contents).
Other national ads for patent medicines made more extravagant claims, but local businesses were almost invariably modest in their offerings. The Opelousas Ice and Bottling Works made one that was about as extravagant as any by a home town merchant, advertising “ice as cheap as anywhere in the world.” The ad doesn’t say who did the huge amount of research needed to support that claim, but it was in the newspaper, so you know it had to be true.

You can contact Jim Bradshaw at jimbradshaw4321@gmail.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.

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