What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines.”
As was a common practice for colonial printers, Timothy Green often inserted multiple advertisements in the newspaper that he published. The February 16, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, included two advertisements placed by Green. One announced that he sold the “Connecticut Colony Law-Book.” The other advised prospective customers of a “choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines, Just come to Hand, and TO BE SOLD” by the printer. Green aimed to supplement revenues generated in his printing office.
Patent medicines might seem like unlikely merchandise for a printer to peddle, but after job printing, blanks, books, and stationery wares printers throughout the colonies advertised such nostrums and elixirs more than any other kind of goods and services. Selling patent medicines seems to have been a side business frequently associated with printers. In addition to advertising patent medicines in the newspapers they published, some printers also listed them in the book catalogs they distributed and in advertisements in the almanacs they printed.
Stocking and selling patent medicines may have been a relatively easy endeavor for printers. Green marketed “Turlington’s Balsam of Life,” “Anderson’s Pills,” “Hooper’s Female Pills,” “Daffy’s Elixir,” “Dr. Hill’s Essence for Sore Eyes.” “Bateman’s Drops,” “Godfry’s Cordial,” and several other familiar medicines that purported to alleviate or eliminate specific symptoms. Many consumers already knew the advantages of “Stoughton’s Elixir” versus “Locker’s Pills,” so Green did not have to play the role of apothecary in making recommendations. Many patent medicines came in packaging with printed directions; Green did not have to offer instructions when he sold those items. Printers who sold patent medicines did not take on the responsibilities associated with apothecaries. Instead, they invited customers to participate in the eighteenth-century version of purchasing over-the-counter medications. Selling patent medicines did not require much additional time or labor, making them attractive as an alternate source of revenue for printers who ran busy printing offices.