Friday, 8 December 2017

Grahamstown Gazette: a Magnificent Display of Goods

Christmas advertising can be a cut-throat affair, even for local, family-owned stores with loyal customers. ‘A New and Interesting Advt for R.S. THORBURN Will appear in a few days’ reads an 1894 advertisement for R.S. Thorburn’s Drapery. The single sentence steals an entire full page-long column of the Thames Star from any competitors who may not have otherwise missed the printing deadline. 

Robert Spiers Thorburn (my first cousin four times removed, according to, for those of you playing along at home), owned one of several draperies on Pollen St at the turn of last century. Vying for customers alongside the likes of Hetherington’s, Thorburn’s Drapery regularly advertised their most fashionable new stock and outlandishly cheap prices to the Thames Star and Ohinemuri Gazette’s readers. ‘Thorburn’s Goods are Good Goods,’ read one ad, ‘and well known to be Cheap and Up-to-Date.’
Draperies were a vital business in the flourishing township. Selling everything from suits and hats to umbrellas and corsets, the likes of Thorburn’s and Heatherington’s ensured the citizens of Thames were outfitted with the very best and most fashionable clothing and accessories the British Empire could provide. Thorburn’s Drapery and its competitors helped to keep the people of the Thames smart and stylish well into the twentieth century. 

Promotions over the Christmas period were particularly heated. In December 1903, Thorburn’s countered Hetherington’s offer of a ‘Handsome Gift’ with every purchase over 10 shillings, with the offer of a ‘straight-out cash gift’ of one shilling on similarly-priced purchases. On the same page, the Wanted Known column of classified advertisements features eight separate classified ads for Thorburn’s, each targeting a different audience. ‘WANTED,’ asked one: ‘100 smart young ladies to wear Thorburn’s 4-dome French kid gloves... at 11d per pair.’ Another classified wanted it known: ‘that the Wise woman, be she maid, wife or widow, buys large parcels of drapery at Thorburn’s.’

In the Ohinemuri Gazette’s 1902 review of the Christmas season in Paeroa and Thames, it was noted that Thorburn’s ‘was looking capital’ on Christmas Eve, as the streets heaved with last-minute shoppers taking in the town’s many Christmas window displays. ‘He had a fine show, and if we mistake not he did a fine trade.’ All of the Thames drapers, ‘as is their annual custom showed a magnificent display of goods, which was the main feature of attraction.’

In the New Year, Thorburn’s topped this with an ad for a ‘Grand Local and Interdistrict Business Concert,’ publishing a full programme of ‘music’ based around the shop’s merchandise. Featuring such ‘songs’ as ‘Summer Fashions,’ ‘Corset Solo – Bones Throughout,’ and ‘Our Stock Must Go,’  the daily ‘concert’ featured a '10 minute interval to allow the audience to go home for more money,’ and was given by ‘Thorburn’s Unparalleled and Unlimited Company of High Class Artist under the Conductorship of – A GENIUS.’


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