What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“They have lately erected a commodious Elaboratory for the preparing Chemical and Galenical Medicines.”
In the fall of 1773, Speakman and Carter, “CHEMISTS and DRUGGISTS” in Philadelphia, advertised widely in their efforts to capture their share of the market for the “freshest DRUGS and genuine Patent MEDICINES, Surgeons INSTRUMENTS[,] Shop Furniture,” and other merchandise sold by apothecaries in the city. They competed with other apothecaries, including several who ran their own notices in newspapers published in the city. Robert Bass advertised in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. William Smith inserted notices in both the Pennsylvania Journal and the Pennsylvania Packet. John Watson, “DOCTOR, SURGEON, and APOTHECARY, at NEWCASTLE on Delaware,” competed for customers outside Philadelphia with an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.
Speakman and Carter sought customers in the Philadelphia as well as “Orders from the country,” including New Castle and the surrounding area, and welcomed both wholesale and retail sales. On September 22, they ran advertisements with identical copy (but variations in format) in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal. In addition to hawking the drugs and patent medicines they recently imported from London, Speakman and Carter advised “Wholesale Dealers and Practitioners in Medicine” that they “erected a commodious Elaboratory for the preparing Chemical and Galenical Medicines in large quantities.” The apothecaries asserted that they could compound medicines “in large quantities” of the same quality “on as low terms [or prices] as they can be imported from England.”
The industrious apothecaries simultaneously ran a more elaborate advertisement in the September 20 edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. It included all of the material that appeared in the advertisements in the other two newspapers as well as a list of some of their inventory. Divided into two columns with one item per line, that list included “Jesuits bark,” “Purging salts,” “Lancets single or in cases,” “Neat mahogany medicine chests for gentlemen’s families,” and “Keyser’s pills, warranted genuine from the only importer in London.” In addition, Speakman and Carter inserted an abbreviated version of the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet on the same day. It featured just a small portion of the notices that appeared in the other newspapers, promoting “A LARGE assortment of the freshest Drugs and Patent Medicines, the most saleable articles in large quantities, which will be sold on reasonable terms.” Though relatively brief compared to the others, publishing that advertisement meant that Speakman and Carter placed notices in all four English-language newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time. (They did not pursue Henry Miller’s standing offer to translate any and all advertisements for the Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote.) The apothecaries apparently considered it worth the investment to achieve market saturation with advertisements in so many newspapers.