What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“More certificates may be seen, and any other particulars concerning them fully explained.”
Michael B. Goldthwait placed an advertisement for “Dr. KEYSER’S celebrated PILLS” in the January 4, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, yet he had little to do with generating the copy. Instead, he republished an advertisement that previously ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. James Rivington, a printer and bookseller in New York, hawked the patent medicine to generate additional revenue. He placed an advertisement that made a patient’s “certificate” or testimonial about the efficacy of Keyser’s pills its main focus. Goldthwait may have worked with Rivington when he decided to reprint the advertisement in one of Boston’s newspapers. Given the wide circulation of colonial newspapers, however, he Goldthwait may have seen Rivington’s advertisement in a copy of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that made its way to Boston and decided to appropriate it for his own use.
Goldthwait made only a few revisions to the notice before submitting it to a local printing office. He altered the headline from “KEYSER’s PILLS” to “Dr. KEYSER’S celebrated PILLS” and streamlined the introductory paragraph that gave context for William Shipman’s testimonial, softening some of the language about the “purchase money” necessary to acquire the medicine. The entire testimonial appeared, including Shipman’s assertion that it “is a faithful relation of my Case, and I can with an honest confidence recommend the Medicine to those who are afflicted with any Rheumatic complaints.” Goldthwait did devise one significant embellishment. Rivington concluded the original advertisement with an offer to provide “very satisfactory information” to anyone “desirous of enquiring further to the efficacy of this medicine,” but Goldthwait claimed that he had “more certificates” or testimonials at his shop near the Mill Bridge. Those certificates likely included testimonials he published in an advertisement in August 1772. Furthermore, Goldthwait could supply “other particulars” that “fully explained” those certificates.
When it came to advertisements appearing in multiple newspapers published in a town or city, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and other purveyors of goods and services often placed the same notice in more than one publication. In terms of advertisements for consumer goods appearing in multiple newspapers published in different cities, that most often occurred with subscription notices for books, pamphlets, newspapers, and other printed materials as printers attempted to generate sufficient demand to make those ventures viable. Apothecaries, shopkeepers, printers, and others throughout the colonies advertised Keyser’s pills, but they did not coordinate their marketing messages. Shipman’s testimonial running in newspapers in Boston and New York was a rare instance of entrepreneurs in two towns exposing consumers to the same marketing campaign.