What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“EDWARD JOYCE’s famous Great American BALSAM.”
Like many other colonial American printers, Charles Crouch sold patent medicines to supplement his income from newspaper publishing and job printing. The featured advertisement from just a few days ago, for instance, listed a variety of popular patent medicines – Anderson’s Pills, Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, among them – that Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette, sold. Given that each of these remedies represented a brand familiar to colonists, Green devoted little space to describing their use or the symptoms they cured. Crouch, on the other hand, stocked a patent medicine that was not nearly as well known among his prospective customers: “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous Great American BALSAM.” Placing it in the hands of readers required more promotion than usually accompanied the most established patent medicines.
Crouch first acknowledged the origins of Joyce’s Balsam, but stressed that should not cause concern. Even though it was “made in Long-Island” and shipped from New York, this remedy was “superior by Trial, for its Use and Efficacy, to any imported from Europe.” Wary readers did not have to trust solely in Crouch’s word on that count. He concluded his advertisement by stating that Joyce’s Balsam had “cured a Number of People in New-York, whose Names are affixed to the Directions.” Skeptics could examine that evidence for themselves. Furthermore, Crouch reported that a bottle had been “brougth into this Province the latter End of last Winter” and “it cured several Persons of violent Coughs, &c. which were of a long standing.” The printer suggested that potential customers could receive local confirmation of the claims transmitted from afar.
Colonists already knew the uses for patent medicines imported from England, which ones supposedly alleviated which symptoms. Since Joyce’s Balsam was much less familiar, Crouch needed to educate readers about which maladies it relieved. To that end, he devoted the vast majority of the advertisement to describing how to take Joyce’s Balsam for colds, swelling, wounds, sprains, and an assortment of other concerns. According to Crouch’s account, Joyce’s Balsam was a cure-all that could replace any variety of imported patent medicines, though he did offer a warning that it had its limits: “I don’t say that it is an infallible cure.”
Given the number of apothecaries, shopkeepers, and printers who regularly advertised patent medicines, a market for familiar imported brands already existed. Crouch, however, wanted to create a local market for a remedy produced in the American colonies. That required more extensive copy than usually accompanied the most popular patent medicines. This included not only reviewing the uses of Joyce’s Balsam but also asserting its effectiveness as a legitimate competitor “to any imported from Europe.”