What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“All the PATENT MEDICINES.”
In the summer of 1773, Joseph Tilton took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to advertise a “large and fresh Assortment of Druggs, Medicines, and Groceries” that he recently imported and stocked at his shop in Exeter. He offered abrief overview of some of those groceries, such as “fresh Raisins, Turkey Figgs, Currants, [and] Olive Oil.” Tilton also listed a variety of medical equipment, including “SURGEON’s pocket Instruments, best London Lancetts, … ivory Syringes, … [and] Apothecaries Scales and Weights.” This gave prospective customers some sense of his merchandise, even if Tilton did not supply an exhaustive catalog.
When it came to that “Assortment of Druggs, [and] Medicines,” however, Tilton succinctly stated that he stocked “all the PATENT MEDICINES commonly Advertised” and did not go into further detail. He expected that prospective customers were already familiar with the many different kinds of patent medicines frequently imported from England and the uses for each, making it unnecessary to name Keyser’s Pills, Daffy’s Elixir, James’s Fever Powder, Godfrey’s Cordial, Stoughton’s Bitters, Turlington’s Balsam, or any of the other patent medicines frequently listed in advertisements placed by apothecaries and shopkeepers.
The partnership of Munson and Mather adopted the same approach in their advertisement that appeared in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy on June 25, the same day that Tilton’s notice ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Munson and Mather declared that they carried a “fresh and universal Assortment of Drugs and Medicines” that included “Most of the Patent Medicines” familiar to consumers throughout the colonies. Those patent medicines were so well known by their brands and their distribution in major ports and smaller towns so ubiquitous in eighteenth-century America neither Tilton nor Munson and Mather considered it necessary to exert much effort in marketing them beyond informing “Customers in Town and Country” where they could purchase “all the PATENT MEDICINES.”