The Lasting Legacy of Business Promotions

Two nights ago when I was wide awake late at night as a result of clocks springing forward, I found myself researching one of my china patterns on Google. I'd always had a suspicion that it had been part of some business promotion decades ago for two reasons: 1) my parents only had one place setting of this delicate pattern and 2) throughout Newfoundland it was relatively easy to locate place settings but never the serving pieces (which in a promotion, not unlike Sobeys' recent Jamie Oliver dinnerware collection, must be purchased separately). Monday night, I confirmed this suspicion.

My Monday night interest in a pattern called Banbury Inn was spurred on by an exciting Sunday morning find at the flea market in Sydney, NS. I strolled around the cruise pavilion seeing nothing of interest until I neared the last tables. Thirty feet away, I knew what I was seeing in the distance and rushed over. There on the table were two complete place settings of Banbury Inn for just $5 for the pair. Thrilled, I handed over the cash and headed home feeling like a bandit.

Unusual for these place settings, however, was the inclusion of bowls. I've been collecting this pattern since 1994. The tea cup of that one place setting owned by my parents was one of my grandmother's favourites when she visited our cottage. "Tea tastes better in a china cup," she said. She's probably right. After she passed away, I took the tea cup and put it in the hope chest my father had crafted for me. My mother found the dinner and side plates, and I poked those away as well. Over the years, I found many tea cups, saucers, dinner plates, and side plates, but bowls and serving dishes were elusive. I ended up ordering a set of four bowls from eBay, but until Sunday morning I'd never seen them available locally.

My research uncovered that my suspicions were correct. Banbury Inn was offered as a promotion at Gulf gas stations in 1972. With a $3 gas purchase, you could buy one place setting for $1.79. The bowls, sold separately, came in sets of four for $2.39. The serving dishes also came in a set at a cost of $6.95.

My parents have always bought gas at a particular station close to their home, but it seems that one day in 1972 during this promotion, my father filled up the car elsewhere. Never one to miss out on a bargain, he brought home the place setting of Banbury Inn. Unfortunately for me, he never went back to buy anymore pieces!

Of course, that doesn't matter. For me, Banbury Inn is about the thrill of the hunt. Sure, I could probably purchase an entire set off the internet these days and have it shipped direct to my door. But the joy of collecting this set (as well as my other pattern, Ridgway Chateau Rose) is the adventure and the stories of how and where I find each piece. (I have two particularly funny stories that I'd love to share here, but haven't the time right now. If you'd like to know more about that original side plate being used by my sister in a craft project or my discovery of sugar bowl and creamer one summer, email or tweet at me!) These stories come to mind every time I host a dinner party or afternoon tea. And as I lay out the china for my friends, I wonder where I'll find the next piece.

So while these sorts of business promotions are meant to attract customers, they can have very personal and lasting (perhaps unintended) legacies. They are both good business (if effective in their goals) and the stuff of good memories.

– Janice