I recently came across this letter from the Tanner-Brice Company, whose tag line was “Wholesalers of Everything.” I was skeptical when I first read that, thinking they were being a little ambitious, but as I continued reading I think it may have been a fairly accurate statement.
In their desire to help the work of the Berry Schools, The Tanner-Brice Company and Mr. Brice concocted a brilliant marketing plan for Martha Berry that came with a little profit for themselves. They proposed a new brand of “high grade coffee” that was to be the equal of Maxwell House coffee. It would have a label with a picture of Martha Berry and some buildings on campus and each can would contain a little booklet of information on “the wonderful life of service” Martha Berry led as well as on the Berry Schools themselves. The company would initially send a shipment of complimentary coffee to the Schools and then periodically have “profit sharing sales” to raise money for the Schools.
Mr. Brice ended the letter by begging Martha Berry to accept his offer of goodwill toward her mission, unless she thought it too presumptuous and motivated by commercial gain for the company.
Berry responded saying that she is “greatly complemented that you care to name your coffee for me” but as a matter of policy she must refuse to have her name and the Schools on commercial products. She said that she has had to turn down many similar offers. She thanked Mr. Brice for his kindness and wishes him the best of luck with his new product.
For some reason, I find these letters really amusing. Can you imagine sitting down to breakfast every morning drinking Martha Berry coffee? I think it is interesting that although she was brilliant at marketing, there were places she wouldn’t go. She was shameless in asking for money on many occasions such as Mother’s Day and in sympathy letters to grieving families like this one. It’s obvious that she worked really hard to make profitable connections with wealthy and powerful figures in the early twentieth century like the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, educators like Booker T. Washington, the publisher of the New York Times, various presidents, authors and so many others. She wrote to various companies like Frigidaire to ask for donations of supplies, but she did draw the line somewhere. And apparently, that line is drawn at coffee with her face on it. I certainly can’t wait to see what other Berry products she turns down in the letters in this collection.