Today’s Memorial Library find: the magazine Advertising and Selling. The September 1912 edition features “How Furniture Could Be Better Advertised,” by Arnold Joerns, of E.J. Thiele and Co.
Joerns complains that in 1911, the average American spend $81.22 on food, $26.02 on clothes, $19.23 on intoxicants, $9.08 on tobacco, and only $6.19 on furniture. “Do you think furniture should be on the bottom of this list?” he asks, implicitly shaking his head. “Wouldn’t you — dealer or manufacturer — rather see it nearer the top, — say at least ahead of tobacco and intoxicants?”
Good news for furniture lovers: by 2012, US spending on “household furnishings and equipment” was at $1,506 per household, almost a quarter as much as we spent on food. (To be fair, it looks like this includes computers, lawnmowers, and many other non-furniture items.) Meanwhile, spending on alcohol is only $438. That’s pretty interesting: in 1911, liquor expenditures were a quarter of food expenditures; now it’s less than a tenth. Looks like a 1911 dollar is roughly 2012$25, so the real dollars spent on alcohol aren’t that different, but we spend a lot more now on food and on furniture.
Anyway, this piece takes a spendidly nuts turn at the end, as Joerns works up a head of steam about the moral peril of discount furniture:
I do not doubt but that fewer domestic troubles would exist if people were educated to a greater understanding of the furniture sentiment. Our young people would find more pleasure in an evening at home — if we made that home more worth while and a source of personal pride; then, perhaps, they would cease joy-riding, card-playing, or drinking and smoking in environments unhealthful to their minds and bodies.
It would even seem reasonable to assume, that if the public mind were educated to appreciate more the sentiment in furniture and its relation to the Ideal Home, we would have fewer divorces. Home would mean more to the boys and girls of today and the men and women of tomorrow. Obviously, if the public is permitted to lose more and more its appreciation of home sentiment, the divorce evil will grow, year by year.
Joerns proposes that the higher sort of furniture manufacturers boost their brand by advertising it, not as furniture, but as “meuble.” This seems never to have caught on.