What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Doctor’s Boxes … are carefully prepared.”
Peter Roberts advertised “An Assortment of the best DRUGS and MEDICINES” as well as other medical supplies, including “Surgeons Instruments,” “Iron and Marble Mortars and Pestles,” and “a great Variety of Smelling Bottles” in the August 20, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In addition to listing his wares, he adopted two other marketing strategies commonly deployed by apothecaries and others who sold medicines. In both, he emphasized convenience as an important part of the customer service he provided.
Roberts informed prospective customers that “Doctor’s Boxes of various Prices, with proper Directions, are carefully prepared and put up for Ships or private Families.” He produced an eighteenth-century version of a first aid kit, packaging together several useful items that buyers did not need at the moment but would likely find useful when need did arise. Even if the purchasers never used some of those items but merely had them on hand out of caution, Roberts still generated revenue for each item included in those “Doctor’s Boxes.” At the same time, he sold a sense of security to those who felt better prepared for illnesses, injuries, and emergencies because they had a variety of medical supplies on hand. To enhance that sense of security, Roberts included “proper Directions” in each box he prepared. Buyers benefited from the convenience of having medicines, medical supplies, and directions easily accessible in those “Doctor’s Boxes.”
Roberts also offered medical professionals the convenience of placing their orders through the post or messenger rather than visiting his shop “opposite the West Door of the Town-House, BOSTON.” He advised that “Practitioners in Town and Country may depend on being as well used by Letter as if present themselves.” Roberts likely hoped to increase his share of the market by assuring prospective customers who could not come to his shop because they were too busy or because they resided too far away that he would not provide second-rate service. He underscored that their business was important to him.
Roberts made clear in his advertisement that he did more than merely dispense drugs and sell medical equipment. He aimed to provide a level of service and convenience that added value to the merchandise he offered for sale. He intended that such marketing strategies would attract customers choosing among the many purveyors of patent medicines and other medical supplies in colonial Boston.