What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Dr. KEYSER’s FAMOUS PILLS.”
Like other colonial printers, Charles Crouch cultivated multiple revenue streams simultaneously. Most printers produced and sold blanks or printed forms for common legal and commercial transactions. They also did job printing, completing orders for broadsides, handbills, circular letters, and a variety of other items according to the specifications of their customers. Many sold books, most of them imported from London, as well as stationery and writing supplies, and some printed newspapers. For Crouch, advertising revenues may have exceeded subscription fees for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, especially since he often distributed a supplement comprised solely of advertisements.
In addition to blanks, books, and stationery, printers frequently stocked and advertised patent medicines popular among consumers on both sides of the Atlantic. They did not need to possess any particular expertise to sell those patent medicines, especially since many came with “FULL DIRECTIONS for their Use in all CASES.” On July 14, 1772, Crouch advertised that he carried an array of patent medicines at his printing office, including “Dr. KEYSER’s FAMOUS PILLS,” “Dr. NELSON’s ANTISCORBUTIC DROPS,” “Dr. HILL’s genuine TINCTURE of VALERIAN,” “Dr. BOERHAAVE’s GRAND BALSAM of HEALTH,” JOYCE’s GREAT AMERICAN BALSAM,” “THE AGUE TINCTURE,” and “The GOLDEN TINCTURE.” Crouch gave these remedies a privileged place in his newspaper. His advertisement filled the first column on the first page and overflowed into the second. Only after promoting an array of elixirs and nostrums did he insert European news received via ships from London.
Crouch’s advertisement included blurbs of various lengths about each of the medicines, most likely reprinted from directions, advertisements, or other materials sent by his suppliers. The structure of the advertisement suggested that he received some of the most familiar items from London, but acquired Joyce’s Great American Balsam, the Ague Tincture, and the Golden Tincture separately. The blurbs for those three items included directions, suggesting that they may not have been as familiar to consumers as the patent medicines from London. Crouch may have hoped that putting less-familiar medicines in an advertisement with trusted remedies would enhance their appeal and convince prospective customers to trust in their efficacy.
In the colophon at the bottom of the final column on the last page, Crouch reminded readers that “all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care and Expedition” at his printing office, yet he did not confine himself to the printing trade or even the book trade in creating revenue streams for his business. Like many other colonial printers, he also hawked patent medicines to supplement his other ventures.