What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Boxes of medicines prepared for the use of plantations and shipping.”
Lewis Johnson peddled an “Assortment of MEDICINES” at his shop in Savannah. He carried familiar patent medicines, such as Daffy’s elixir, Bateman’s drops, Stoughton’s bitters, Godfrey’s cordial, Turlington’s balsam, Anderson’s pills, and a “compleat assortment of Dr. Hill’s medicines.” His inventory of patent medicines rivaled what customers could expect to find in apothecary shops in larger cities on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to those remedies, Johnson carried a variety of supplies for compounding other remedies according to the wishes of the customer or the instructions of a doctor or healer. He also stocked medical equipment, such as lancets, vials, mortars, and weights and scales.
To facilitate sales, Johnson concluded his advertisement with a service available to patrons: “Boxes of medicines prepared for the use of plantations and shipping.” In other words, Johnson produced the eighteenth-century equivalent of the modern first aid kit. He identified prospective customers likely to have particular need of a several medicines for treating a variety of ailments packaged in advance. Johnson’s boxes saved plantation owners and overseers located some distance from Savannah the trouble of sending for remedies every time they had need. For vessels at sea, having a supply of medicines on hand was imperative since they could be weeks from port and unable to acquire new supplies in the meantime. This method also allowed Johnson to boost his sales by bundling together items based on possible need at some future moment rather than certain need at the time of purchase.
For some customers, these “Boxes of medicines” were practically a necessity; for others they were a convenience. In both cases, Johnson did more than merely sell goods to consumers. He offered a service that enhanced the value of his wares. That service required him to contribute his own knowledge of medicines and their effects in selecting or recommending items to include in the boxes. Beyond the medicines and other supplies, Johnson’s expertise was an important component of the boxes he prepared for customers.