March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 17, 1768).

“HENRY STUBER, DRUGGIST in Lancaster.”

Although he ran a shop in Lancaster, Henry Stuber sought local customers by placing advertisements for his “FRESH and universal supply of DRUGS and MEDICINES” in the Pennsylvania Gazette, printed in Philadelphia more than fifty miles to the east. His advertisements demonstrate the reach of colonial newspapers in an era before most towns had printing presses and local newspapers. Lancaster did not have its own newspaper in 1768. Instead, English-speaking residents treated those printed in Philadelphia – the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal – as their local newspapers, while others who spoke German read the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote printed in Germantown, just outside of Philadelphia. As the titles of the English-language newspapers suggest, they served the entire colony of Pennsylvania – and beyond. Colonists in Delaware and portions of New Jersey and Maryland also considered these regional newspapers to be their local publications, reading them and inserting advertisements in them.

Stuber relied on the extensive geographic distribution of the Pennsylvania Gazette when he composed his advertisement. Realizing that he would probably not attract many customers from the busy port where residents had access to many apothecary shops, he instead targeted customers who lived in the hinterlands. In particular, he addressed “Doctors in the country” who were likely to purchase in volume, informing them that it “will be much easier to get [medicines] from Lancaster” than from Philadelphia. He also promoted his wares to “families who live at a distance from a Doctor” in towns and villages throughout the colony. He supplied “medicine boxes, with ample directions” so they could tend to their own minor ailments as necessary. In addition to convenience, he suggested other benefits: acquiring drugs from his shop could be done with “much less risk” and “will save the expence of so far carriage.” Just in case skeptical prospective customers assumed that the prices would already reflect the costs Stuber paid for transporting his inventory to Lancaster, he assured readers that “he will sell as cheap as any one in Philadelphia.”

That Henry Stuber, a “DRUHGGIST in Lancaster,” opted to advertise in a newspaper printed in Philadelphia in hopes of enticing customers from throughout the countryside testifies to the wide dissemination and readership of eighteenth-century newspapers. Those publications not only delivered information far and wide but also facilitated commerce beyond the largest and busiest port cities.

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