What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“At Mr. JOSEPH SOLOMAN’S … in Lancaster, by the appointment of Mr. HAMILTON, Surgeon Dentist.”
At the same time that advertisements for Mr. Hamilton’s amazing tincture for curing toothaches and other maladies ran in multiple newspapers in New York in July 1769, it also appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, a newspaper published in Philadelphia with circulation far beyond that city. The copy in the Pennsylvania Gazette matched the New York advertisements almost exactly – including the guarantee of “No CURE No PAY” – except for instructions about where customers could acquire the tincture for themselves. Readers of newspapers printed in New York were directed to “Mrs. Buskirk’s, the corner of Wall-Street, near the Coffe-house,” where they could consult directly with Mr. Hamilton, “Surgeon Dentists and Operator for the Teeth from LONDON.” The variant in the Pennsylvania Gazette, on the other hand, gave directions to local agents in Pennsylvania. Readers could purchase the tincture “at Mrs. [illegible], next door to the Indian Queen, in Fourth-street, Philadelphia; and, at Mr. JOSEPH SOLOMAN’s, in King-street, near the Court-house, in Lancaster.” Purveyors of the tincture in Pennsylvania stocked and sold it “by the appointment of Mr. HAMILTON.”
Inserting advertisements in all of the newspapers published in New York was ambitious on its own, but designating local agents and branching out to yet another newspaper in another colony was even more innovative. In eighteenth-century America, most providers of goods and services confined their marketing efforts to newspapers that served their own city or town. Printers and publishers were an important exception; they frequently placed subscription notices in newspapers throughout the colonies to gauge the market and generate sufficient interest to move forward with printing a book, magazine, or other publication. This involved designating local agents to receive subscriptions, collect payment, and distribute publications after they went to press, but those agents were usually fellow printers who already participated in networks for exchanging newspapers and information. Still, this was a model that need not work for printers exclusively. Hamilton experimented with designating local agents in Philadelphia and Lancaster as a means of enlarging the market for his tincture.
Doing so required prospective customers to place trust in the local agents in addition to Hamilton, especially when it came to the “No CURE No PAY” guarantee. Clients in New York used the tincture under the direction of Hamilton and could appeal to him directly if the medicine did not produce the desired effect. Clients in Philadelphia and Lancaster, in contrast, had to depend on fair dealing by local agents who may not have possessed Hamilton’s experience or expertise. After all, the advertisement described Hamilton as a “Surgeon Dentist,” but did not indicate the occupations of his local agents in Pennsylvania. Other portions of the advertisement may have alleviated some concerns by presenting a portrait of Hamilton’s character. In addition to describing Hamilton’s tincture, the advertisement provided an overview of the services he provided in New York. Hamilton “cleans and beautifies teeth” and “makes and sets in artificial teeth.” He served his clients “with dispatch and secrecy.” The advertisement concluded with a nota bene that depicted Hamilton as a humanitarian: “the poor, afflicted with the tooth-ach, cured gratis, every morning, from 8 to 10 o clock.” Was such information about Hamilton’s practice in New York superfluous in an advertisement placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette? Readers in Philadelphia and, especially, Lancaster were unlikely to travel to New York to have Hamilton clean their teeth or fit them with artificial teeth. The poor were even less likely to make such a journey. Hamilton could have reduced the costs of advertising in the Pennsylvania Gazette if he had eliminated that portion of the advertisement, yet that information was not superfluous. It testified to Hamilton’s competence and professional demeanor, allowing him to cultivate a reputation that might have made faraway readers more inclined to trust his description of his toothache tincture and, in turn, deal with local agents who sold it on his behalf.