What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Dr. KEYSER’S GENUINE PILLS.”
Like many colonial printers, Charles Crouch and Powell, Hughes, and Company advertised and sold patent medicines, including Dr. Keyser’s pills for venereal disease, at their printing offices in Charleston. In the summer of 1772, that prompted a feud between those printers. It began when Powell, Hughes, and Company ran a lengthy advertisement in their newspaper, the South-Carolina Gazette, providing a history of the medicine and its effectiveness. In the next issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Crouch ran his own advertisement, but considered it “needless to trouble the public with more Encomiums on the Effects of this Remedy” in the public prints. Instead, he offered “A NARRATIVE of the Effects of Dr. KEYSER’s MEDICINE, with an Account of its ANALYSIS, by the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences,” that colonizers could examine at his printing office. Powell, Hughes, and Company made clear in a new advertisement in the next issue of the South-Carolina Gazette that they took issue with Crouch seeming to critique their marketing efforts. That led to a series of advertisements that descended into the printers accusing each other of carrying counterfeit medicines and making attacks on each other’s character. Powell, Hughes, and Company even reprinted one of Crouch’s advertisements, for the purposes of insinuating that their rival suffered from venereal disease himself, in the July 30 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.
Crouch chose not to escalate the war of words at that point. In his most recent advertisement, he proclaimed that “as to my good or bad Qualities, they are submitted to Candour and Impartiality of the respectable Public, whose Favours I shall always make my chief Study to merit.” That did not stop him from placing another advertisement for the patent medicine at the center of the controversy. In the August 4 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he inserted a short advertisement that alerted prospective customers that “A Fresh Parcel of Dr. KEYSER’s real famous PILLS, are to be had, with full Directions for their Use in all Cases, at CHARLES CROUCH’S Printing Office in Elliott-street.” He also reminded readers that they could peruse “a Narrative of the Effects of KEYSER’S Medicine, with an Account of its Analysis, by the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences.” Crouch suggested the pills he sold were authentic when he described them as “real.” Edward Hughes died on July 30, so the newly-constituted Thomas Powell and Company may have been too occupied with other matters to take notice. Two days later, they ran a two-line advertisement that simply stated, “Keyser’s PILLS and Maredant’s DROPS, may be had at the Printing-Office near the exchange.” Crouch opted to advertise once again, inserting a variation of his most recent notice as one of only six that appeared in a supplement published on August 7. He revised the description from “A Fresh Parcel of Dr. KEYSER’s real famous PILLS” to “A Fresh Parcel of Dr. KEYSER’S GENUINE PILLS,” perhaps intending to defend his own merchandise and cast doubt on the pills stocked by a competitor without calling enough attention to his efforts to incite a response from Powell, Hughes, and Company. Of all the advertisements he could have chosen to include in the limited space in the midweek supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette, Crouch consciously chose to promote the patent medicines available at his printing office, likely hoping to build on any attention generated by the recent dispute.