What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The only true and genuine sort … is sealed with my seal and coat of arms.”
Beware of counterfeiters! So warned Thomas Anderton in his advertisement for “TURLINGTON’s BALSAM OF LIFE; OR THE TRUE AMERICAN BALSAM.” Anderton proclaimed that this patent medicine was recognized among Europeans, Americans, and “West-Indians” for its “true merit, of universal experience, utility and reputation,” superior to “all the other known Balsams.” Continuing with the superlatives, Anderton trumpeted that Turlington’s Balsam of Life was “the best adapted in all cases, in every climate, to relieve the various ailments and diseases of the human body … that pharmacy, since the creation of the world, has produced.” Tending to the quality of the product he marketed, Anderton asserted that he “faithfully prepared” the balsam “from a true copy of the original receipt, taken out of the Chancery-office, in London, where it is recorded on oath, when the patent was granted.”
Anderton claimed an exclusive right to produce and sell this extraordinary medicine in the colonies, yet that did not prevent others from distributing counterfeits. He explained how consumers could distinguish the authentic balsam from imposters “which are to be met with every where.” Those produced by Anderton were “sealed with my seal and coat of arms, and the direction bill given with each bottle is signed with my name in my own hand writing.” Armed with that information, discerning customers could avoid being fooled by unscrupulous vendors who passed off inferior medicines as authentic Turlington’s Balsam of Life. Some “very modest counterfeiters,” like Martha Wray and Mary Sopp, provided “direction bills” with the medicines they sold, but, according to Anderton, they “conscientiously avoid forging the proprietors names.” Others, however, were more sophisticated in their efforts to hoodwink consumers. They engaged in “forgery in a gross degree,” aided by “Printers and Engravers that have been employed to counterfeit the direction and seals.” Anderton pledged to expose everyone involved, including “venders of such counterfeit rubbish,” at a later time, but for the moment warned consumers to be wary of products purported to be authentic Turlington’s Balsam of Life. In exercising caution, consumers could safeguard their own purchases to their own benefit as well as prevent further injustices to the producer of the “TRUE AMERICAN BALSAM.”