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Entry from April 07, 2011
“If you break it, you bought it” (Pottery Barn rule)

"If You Break it—You’ve Bought It!” was a sign in a bric-a-brac store in Greenwich Village, according to a 1948 column by Walter Winchell. The saying has been written in many forms, including:

. If you break it, you’ve bought it.
. You break it, you bought it.
. You break it, you take it.
. You break it and you own it.

The Pottery Barn is a home furnishing chain that was founded in Lower Manhattan in 1949. In September 2002, New York (NY) Times columnist Thomas Friedman said, “You know, I kind of have a Pottery Barn view of this issue. You know, you go into the Pottery Barn—there’s a sign that always says, `Break it and you own it.’” The saying soon became known as the “Pottery Barn rule.” However, the saying (cited in print since at least 1948) predates the first Pottery Barn (in 1949). Also, though the signs have appeared in many stores selling fragile merchandise, “you break it, you bought it” signs haven’t been at the Pottery Barn’s stores (some claim that the original Manhattan store displayed such signs) and the saying is not the company’s policy.


Wikipedia: Pottery Barn rule
The Pottery Barn rule is American jargon alluding to a “you break it, you buy it” policy, by which a retail store holds a customer responsible for damage done to merchandise on display.

In reality, Pottery Barn—the upscale home furnishing stores in the United States—does not have a “you break it, you bought it” policy, but rather writes off broken merchandise as a loss, as do most large American retailers. Many U.S. states have statutes forbidding such policies (absent negligence or willful destruction). Legal doctrine also holds that a retailer incurs the risk that merchandise will be destroyed by placing it where customers can handle it and not doing anything to discourage them.

Origin and usage
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman claims to have coined the term, having used the phrase “the pottery store rule” in a February 12, 2003, column. He has said he referred to Pottery Barn specifically in speeches. According to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell cited the rule in the summer of 2002 when warning President George W. Bush of the consequences of military action in Iraq:

‘You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,’ he told the president. ‘You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You’ll own it all.’ Privately, Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it.

Pottery Barn
ABOUT US
Pottery Barn began in 1949 as a single store in Lower Manhattan, and is founded on the idea that home furnishings should be exceptional in comfort, style and quality. Our in-house designers draw their inspiration from time-honored models in America and around the world to create unique collections at an excellent value. Nearly all of Pottery Barn’s products are exclusive to our catalogs, web site and stores.

17 September 1948, Springfield (MA) Union, “Winchell on Broadway,” pg. 16, col. 2: 
The bric-a-brac shop in Greenwich Village where a placard warns: “If You Break it—You’ve Bought It!”

22 February 1952, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 18, col. 1:
Caveat Emptor
BOSTON—(AP)—A Boston antique shop displays this sign: “If you break it, you’ve bought it.”

16 March 1952, Oakland (CA) Tribune, “Sign Language,” Parade magazine, pg. 21, cols. 1-2:
In Miami Beach, the Marcia Kaye Gift Shop, located in the Saxony Hotel, displays rows of fragile gifts with this warning: “If you break it, you’ve bought it!”

8 February 1957, Los Angeles (CA) Times, pg. 18:
Christopher Leng, a sterling gentleman who operates the Mei Wing Oriental Arts and Gift Shop in the T&C (Town and Country—ed.) is doing his part in forming the new language. A nice little inconspicuous sign in his place that seems to be all-encompassing reads:

“If you break it—You bought it.”

Google Books
Hobbies
Volume 68, Issue 7
1963
Pg. 83:
A good rule, though sometimes impractical of enforcement, is, “If you break it you bought it.”

8 August 1964, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “A line o’ type or two,” pg. WA12:
The painted sign on the shelf of valuable excavation relics in the Main Street gallery simply stating, “If you break it—you BOUGHT it!”

18 September 1966, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Antiques Dealer Claims Midwest Rich in Lore,” sec. 10, pg. Q6:
So the one thing you will not find in her shop is any sign saying in effect, “If you break it you bought it.”

Google Books
Practical Family and Marriage Counseling
By Calvert Stein
Springfield, IL: Thomas
1969
Pg. 93:
(Sign in gift shop: “If you break it, you’ve bought it.")

Google Books
A First Book of Antiques
By Cyril Bracegirdle
London: Heinemann
1970
Pg. 124:
There will sometimes be notices telling you that ‘If you break it you’ve bought it!’

Google Books
The Underground Revolution;
Hippies, yippies, and others

By Naomi Feigelson
New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls
1970
Pg. 11:
The widely publicized opening sale and the motto, “If you break it you take it,” showed, more than the free merchandise, what the Free Store was all about it.

19 April 1984, New York (NY) Times, “Pottery Barn’s Sale Strategy,” pg. D5:
The stock stood unaccompanied by “You break it, you take it” signs, as in many other shops.

NPR
Interview: Journalist and author Tom Friedman discusses his views on how the US administration should prepare before pre-emptively attacking Iraq (2255 words)
September 7, 2002, Weekend Edition Saturday:
You know, I kind of have a Pottery Barn view of this issue. You know, you go into the Pottery Barn—there’s a sign that always says, `Break it and you own it.’

New York (NY) Times
Present at . . . What?
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: February 12, 2003
(...)
Let’s start with the Bush hawks. The first rule of any Iraq invasion is the pottery store rule: You break it, you own it. We break Iraq, we own Iraq—and we own the primary responsibility for rebuilding a country of 23 million people that has more in common with Yugoslavia than with any other Arab nation.

Google Books
Plan of Attack
By Bob Woodward
New York, NY: Simon & Schuster
2004
Pg. 150: 
‘You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,’ he told the president. ‘You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You’ll own it all.’ Privately, Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it.

What’s Next? Blog
Comments
One Response to “Company Says Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Rule is Bull”

1. John Berseth says:
January 12, 2005 at 9:12 am
About Powell’s Pottery Barn comment, ‘you break it you own it,’ I want to belatedly point out that in the original Pottery Barn, on 9th Avenue and 24th Street in Manhattan, there were signs, especially in the basement display area, that said more or less just that. Of course, that place was a barn kind of barn, which resembled a used book store (like the Strand) more than a well-designed mall store.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWork/Businesses • (5) Comments • Thursday, April 07, 2011 • Permalink


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