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The ‘bargain days’ flood

The life blood of a newspaper is readers, and particularly readers who subscribe.

Before you turn away thinking this is just another one of those pleas to save newspapers, don’t worry. With apologies to my favorite English teachers—this ain’t it.

Back in September 1953, the Mail Tribune circulation department came up with one of those surefire ways of increasing readership — the reader participation survey.

This time, it wasn’t the prettiest girl in town, a celebrity puzzle game, or the “do you remember the story” contest. This time it was the comeback of “Bargain Days,” a subscription gimmick that the paper had run periodically since 1927.

The first part of the campaign was a discounted subscription rate. If paid in advance, a one-year subscription was discounted by $2.50, whether it was from the usual carrier delivered price of $15, or the usual mail delivery price of $12. But, as they say on TV, “Act fast!” The offer was only good for nine days.

The twist to the 1953 Bargain Days was a chance for readers to win a free, one-year subscription to the newspaper. This special contest had only been done as part of Bargain Days four times before.

Printed on page one was an entry blank containing five categories — person with oldest copy of the Mail Tribune, three former Tribune carriers (basis of awards announced later), person with the oldest Bargain Day’s receipt, and a $12.50 cash prize to the boy, 11-12 yrs., writing the best letter on, “Why I would like to be a Mail Tribune carrier.”

The most interesting category was “the oldest person in Jackson County” who registered. The winner was 101-year-old Christina Godbersen, who had celebrated her birthday the previous April.

Christina was born in Germany in 1852 and had only been living in Medford for six years. She came to the United States in 1881 with her husband and five children. They settled in Nebraska, where four more children were born.

Fortunately, the first ship they had chosen to take was overbooked and they took another. The first ship sank with everyone on board the day after it left port.

Christina’s husband died in 1897, when their youngest child was still an infant. Forced to support her family, she worked as an in-home nurse. During WWI she volunteered to knit sweaters and caps destined for distribution to soldiers by the Red Cross.

When Christina died a year later, two months before her 102nd birthday she left 18 grandchildren, 38 great grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.

Mr. and Mrs. Dixon of Central Point presented the oldest copy of the Mail Tribune, a Jan. 4, 1907, edition of the Medford Tribune, technically a predecessor to and not an actual Mail Tribune. Apparently, the judges also ignored a July 10, 1903, submission of another predecessor, the Medford Mail, labeling it as just a “forerunner.”

The three Mail Tribune carrier winners were Mervyn Gleason, earliest carrier (1916-1919); Richard Livingston, longest length of service, four years, nine months; and Lee Kilbourn, carrier for two and a half years.

Medford residents Mr. and Mrs. W. L. Gardner submitted the oldest Bargain Days receipt, Sept. 1, 1928, the second year of the subscription campaign.

Medford Middle School student, Joel Dahlin (12), wrote the best letter, “Why I would like to be a Mail Tribune carrier” and won $12.50.

“I would like to earn enough money to buy a gun and some other things,” Joel said. “I can work after school and still have time to do my homework and go to Scouts in the evening.”

The Bargain Days campaign was a success. Circulation manager Gerald Latham admitted it would take perhaps a week or two for the department to “dig its way out of the subscription flood.”

No one complained about the extra work. Subscriptions were lifeblood and the presses continued to spin.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.