September 15

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Boston Evening-Post (September 15, 1766).

“All Persons may be supplied with DRUGS and MEDICINES of the freshest and best Kinds.”

In his capacity as executor of Thomas Aston’s estate, William Coffin, Jr., placed an advertisement asking “All Persons that have any Demand upon the Estate … to bring in their Accounts.” Likewise, “all those Persons that are indebted to said Estate … are desired to come and settle with said Executor.” Such announcements were fairly standard in eighteenth-century America.

The next portion of the advertisement, however, deviated from most estate notices placed by executors. Coffin announced that he “proposed to carry on the Business of the Shop as heretofore.” Aston had been an apothecary. Coffin marketed the remaining inventory of “DRUGS and MEDICINES of the freshest and best kinds” that had been imported from England the previous spring. Coffin was not simply clearing out existing inventory. He reported that “another [shipment of medicines] is expected to arrive this Fall from England.” In addition, he carried “Groceries and Dye Stuffs.”

Coffin and Aston’s relationship was not readily apparent in this advertisement, though it would have been well known to residents of Boston. Aston, an apothecary, was father-in-law to Coffin, a merchant and shopkeeper. Their familial connection tied together their business interests, even prompting Coffin to peddle the “DRUGS and MEDICINES” that had previously been his father-in-law’s specialty.

That’s not to say that Coffin lacked experience selling medicines. He began placing advertisements in Boston’s newspapers at least a decade earlier, though he initially promoted “CHOICE Philadelphia FLOUR” exclusively (Boston-Gazette, July 5, 1765). By the early 1760s he was also advertising goods imported from London, especially hardware. Throughout that period his advertisements indicated that he moved from location to location, setting up shop at various stores and warehouses in Boston. He continued to diversify the merchandise he sold, placing an advertisement for a variety of textiles, hardware, and groceries that he sold “At Store No. 12 on the Long Wharf” (Boston Evening-Post, October 22, 1764; Boston-Gazette, October 29, 1764)). In the same advertisement he noted that he “could be spoke with at Dr. Aston’s, next Door to the Governor’s.” It was only in subsequent advertisements that Coffin included “A general Assortment of Drugs and Medicines” among the inventory listed in his advertisements (Boston-Gazette, December 2, 1765).

Coffin almost certainly did not have the same expertise as his father-in-law, an apothecary, when it came to “DRUGS and MEDICINES,” but their familial relationship and mentorship by the elder man likely played a role in Coffin’s decision to expand his business interests.

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