December 14

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 14, 1772).

“The underwritten certificate, from one well known in New-York, and now in perfect health.”

James Rivington is best remembered today as a Loyalist printer who published a newspaper during the era of the American Revolution.  Before he launches his newspapers, he often placed advertisements for “KEYSER’s PILLS” in other newspapers published in New York in the early 1770s.  Whether or not they published newspapers, printers frequently stocked patent medicines, along with books, stationery, and writing supplies, to generate additional revenues.  That being the case, colonizers would not have considered it unusual to encounter advertisements in which Rivington hawked a medicine to those afflicted with venereal disease.

In an advertisement that ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury for several weeks in late November and early December 1772, the printer advised that “Any Person desirous of being made more particularly acquainted” with the efficacy of Keyser’s Pills “than can be decently communicated in an Advertisement” could discuss the remedy with him and then “try a Method the easiest and safest, and so secret that the Patient may be cured” without anyone “harbouring the least Suspicion” of their “lamentable Circumstances.”  Yet Keyser’s Pills had an ameliorative effect on more than just venereal diseases.  Rivington devoted a section of his advertisement to how the pills had “Great Effects” on “THE RHEUMATISM” and concluded by noting that they would “cure a Negro in the worst Stage of the Yeaws.”

On December 14, Rivington placed a new version of his advertisement.  He asserted that Keyser’s Pills were so effective in alleviating “every appearance of the venereal distemper” that “persons tormented with other diseases” made “tryals” of the pills.  Those patients included William Shipman, “well known in New-York,” who “was a long time the verist of cripples” but now, as a result of taking Keyser’s Pills, was “in perfect health.”  Rivington referred readers to a “Copy of W. Shipman’s certificate” or testimonial that provided an overview of his suffering as a result of being “so violently afflicted with the rheumatism,” his disappointment with other medicines, his decision to “make trial of Dr. Keyser’s pills,” and the “suprizing relief” that he began experiencing after only two weeks.  Shipman continued taking the pills “without any other consequence but that happy one of being restored to perfect health and ease.”

Shipman’s testimonial comprised half of Rivington’s advertisement, indicating that the printer believed it would effectively market Keyser’s pills to prospective patients.  Rivington acknowledged that Shipman “took a great many of the pills, which made his cure expensive.”  Yet the effectiveness justified the expense.  The “health, strength and agility” that Shipman “now enjoys,” Rivington argued, “is an ample compensation for the purchase money.”  Consumers could acquire “boxes of Ten, Twenty, and Forty Shillings each” as they made their own “tryals” of the pills and determined how much they wished to invest.  Rivington likely intended that Shipman’s testimonial about taking the pills over a period of several months would convince customers to purchase in larger quantities in hopes of achieving the same results.

Leave a Reply