What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Enquire only for Dr Hill’s American Balsam.”
Advertisements for patent medicines frequently appeared in early American newspapers. In the spring of 1772, William Young took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Journal to promote “Dr. HILL’s AMERICAN BALSAM, LATELY imported from London.” For those unfamiliar with this remedy, Young explained that “Experience has fully testified, that by the proper use of this excellent medicine, great numbers of people in America have been relieved in the consumption, gravel [or kidney stones] and rheumatic pains.” In addition, it helped with colds, coughs, and “swimmings in the head.”
Many consumers may have been more familiar with popular patent medicines commonly sold by apothecaries, merchants, shopkeepers, and even printers and booksellers. Newspaper advertisements suggest that colonizers could easily acquire Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, Hooper’s Pills, Turlington’s Balsam, and a variety of other patent medicines in shops from New England to Georgia. Hill’s American Balsam, in contrast, was not as readily available. Instead, a small number of sellers in the colonies exclusively handled the distribution, including merchants in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Wilmington, North Carolina; shopkeepers in New York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania; a printer in Germantown, Pennsylvania; and a goldsmith in Wilmington, Delaware. Young proclaimed that consumers would find this patent medicine “no where else.”
Such exclusivity had the potential to lead to confusion or even counterfeits. In a nota bene, Young warned that “People, in buying this so highly esteemed medicine, should be careful not to get a wrong one and be deceived.” To prevent that from happening, he gave instructions “to enquire only for Dr. Hill’s American Balsam.” Consumers could confirm that they obtained the correct product by looking for Hill’s “direction wraped about each bottle.” Printed materials played an important role in marketing this patent medicine, via the advertisements that appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal and via the ancillary materials that accompanied each bottle of Dr. Hill’s American Balsam.