What was advertised in a colonial Americna newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The above patent Medicines from the original Warehouses in London, and warranted genuine.”
In the fall of 1768 Thomas Brownjohn advertised “a large Assortment of DRUGS & MEDICINES” available at “his Medicinal Store, in Hanover-Square” in New York. He provided a list of many of the items in his inventory, confident that prospective customers were already familiar with the symptoms each of the remedies supposedly cured. Most goods had not yet been differentiated into brands in the eighteenth century, but patent medicines were an exception. They carried names readily recognized on both sides of the Atlantic, including “Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, Stoughton’s and Squires Grand Elixir, Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Doctor Radcliff’s famous purging Elixir, … Doctor Walkers Jesuit Drops, … [and] Hooper’s Anderson’s, and Locker’s Pills.” The same names appeared in advertisements placed by apothecaries from New England to Georgia.
These nostrums were widely known but not necessarily well regulated. Consumers also knew that counterfeits regularly entered the market. To address the skepticism of potential customers, Brownjohn reported that “The above patent Medicines [came] from the original Warehouses in London.” Furthermore, he pledged that they were “warranted genuine.” Turlington’s Balsam of Life was indeed Turlington’s Balsam of Life. In that case, however, customers did not have to rely solely on Brownjohn’s promises. They could also examine the packaging. John Styles notes that Turlington attempted to ward off counterfeits by rotating through “rectangular, violin and tablet shaped bottles.” In addition, those bottles “were identifiable not simply because of their shapes, but also because almost every surface was heavily embossed with letters of images.” Furthermore, “the bottles were sold with an accompanying printed bill of directions” that “illustrated the current shape of the bottle and listed the embossed information.” Other patent medicine makers also deployed unique packaging in the eighteenth century. Although Brownjohn did not mention any of these additional means of confirming the authenticity of the patent medicines he sold, other retailers sometimes did so. Brownjohn may have considered it unnecessary if consumers possessed widespread familiarity not only with the products but also with the packaging when it came to patent medicines.
 John Styles, “Product Innovation in Early Modern London,” Past & Present 168 (August 2000): 153-156.