December 8

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

Providence Gazette (December 7, 1771).

“(T. b. c.)”

Did printers require advertisers to pay for their notices in advance?  They frequently extended credit to subscribers and regularly placed their own notices threatening to sue subscribers who had not paid for months or years, though they rarely seemed to follow through on those threats.  Did printers offer such leeway to subscribers because they more strictly enforced policies that advertisers had to pay before seeing their notices in print?  After all, advertising had the potential to generate significant revenue, eclipsing subscriptions.

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, included his policy in the colophon at the bottom of the last page: “ADVERTISEMENTS) of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings Lawful Money.”  Did he enforce his own policy?  Some evidence suggests that he did not always do so, especially for advertisements placed by customers who established good relations with the printing office.

Last week, I examined a notation, “(T. b. c.),” that appeared on the final line of George Olney’s advertisement.  That advertisement ran for eight weeks, for the first four weeks without the notation and for the final four weeks with the notation.  I suggested that “(T. b. c.)” meant “to be continued,” a signal to the compositor to continue inserting the notice until instructed otherwise by the advertiser.  How did that correlate with paying for advertisements in advance?  I hypothesized that since the notation did not initially appear in Olney’s advertisement that he paid for several weeks and then Carter extended credit for the remainder of the advertisement’s run.

Providence Gazette (December 7, 1771).

Today, I am testing that theory against two other advertisements that featured the “(T. b. c.)” notation, one for a “compleat assortment of English and India GOODS” placed by Edward Thurber and the other for “DRUGS and MEDICINES” placed by Amos Throop.  Thurber’s advertisement ran without the notation for three weeks (November 2, 9, and 16, 1771) and then ran for ten weeks with the notation.  In addition, Thurber ran a different advertisement for three weeks in October that did not have the “(T. b. c.)” notation as well as other advertisements earlier in the year that similarly did not include the notation.  If Thurber did indeed pay for inserting those advertisements in advance, then Carter very well could have extended credit for his “(T. b. c.)” advertisements.

Throop’s advertisement ran for six weeks in November and December 1771, each time with “(T. b. c.)” on the final line.  That deviates from Olney and Thurber first running their advertisements without the notation and then with it.  However, Throop had recently inserted another advertisement that ran for three weeks (September 28 and October 5 and 12) without the “(T. b. c.)” notation.  He also ran other advertisements earlier in the year, establishing a recent history with Carter.  That may have been sufficient for the printer to extend credit when Throop submitted an advertisement to appear for the first time on November 23.  It made its final appearance on December 28, perhaps as part of an agreement that credit would not extend into the new year.

Newspapers were important vehicles for disseminating information (via news accounts, letters, editorials, advertisements, and other features) in the era of the American Revolution, so much so that the business practices of printers merit scrutiny.  Notices placed by printers make clear that they extended credit to subscribers, but sometimes those notice made more general references to “customers” instead.  Those customers may have purchased advertisements, job printing, books, stationery, or a variety of other goods and services commonly available at printing offices.  Even though some printers declared that advertisements must pay in advance, it seems likely that they extended credit to some advertisers that they knew well.

December 8

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

Providence Gazette (December 8, 1770).

Fresh from one of the best Druggists in London.”

Like many other apothecaries in colonial America, Amos Throop of Providence resorted to newspaper advertising to promote his wares and attract clients.  In an advertisement in the December 8, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette, he informed the public that he carried “A GENERAL Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES” recently imported from London.  Those included popular patent medicines, such as “Tarlington’s Balsam of Life, Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Anderson’s Lockyer’s and Hopper’s Pills, Stoughton’s Elixir, [and] Bateman’s Drops.”  Throop expected that these remedies were so familiar to prospective clients that he did not to describe the symptoms each eliminated.

Throop sought clients of various sorts, both “Families in Town or Country” and “Practitioners” like Ephraim Otis, whose own advertisement stated that he “offers himself in the Capacity of Physician and Surgeon, in every Branch (particularly Osteology and Bone setting).”  The apothecary also found himself in competition with William Bowen.  In his advertisement, Bowen declared that he “continues to practice Physic, Surgery and Midwifry” as well as sell “a neat Assortment of Drugs and Medicines, at as cheap a Rate as can be bought in this Town.”  Throop also pledged that his customers “may depend on having everything good and cheap,” but he further enhanced his appeal to distinguish it from Bowen’s promise of low prices.  He explained that he acquired his medicines “twice a year … fresh from one of the best Druggists in London.”  His clients did not have to worry that nostrums they purchased at his shop had been sitting on the shelves or in the storeroom so long as to diminish their effectiveness.  Furthermore, Throop explained that he had received a shipment “in the Snow Tristam, Captain Shand, from London.”  Readers familiar with vessels that arrived and departed could judge for themselves how recently Throop had updated his inventory.

Bowen and Throop both advertised “DRUGS and MEDICINES” in the Providence Gazette.  While Bowen relied primarily on low prices to market his merchandise, Throop offered more extensive appeals to prospective clients.  He underscored quality by asserting connections to a respected colleague in London, outlined his schedule for replenishing his inventory, noted which vessel recently delivered new items, provided credit to practitioners “who will open a Trade with him,” sold ancillary products, and made his wares available at bargain prices.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 23, 1770).

“Supplied with genuine Medicines, very cheap.”

In the summer of 1770, Amos Throop sold a “compleat Assortment of MEDICINES” at his shop in Providence, appropriately identified by “the Sign of the Golden Pestle and Mortar.”  His inventory included a variety of popular patent medicines imported from London, including “Hooper’s, Lockyer’s, and Anderson’s genuine Pills,” “Stoughton’s Elixir,” and “Hill’s Balsam of Honey.”

In an advertisement in the Providence Gazette, the apothecary addressed different sorts of prospective customers.  He informed “Country Practitioners” that he could fill their orders “as cheap as they can be served in Boston, or elsewhere.”  Throop competed in a regional market; druggists in other port towns also imported medicines from London.  Prospective customers could send away to Boston, Newport, or even New York if they anticipated bargain prices, but Throop sought to assure them that they did not need to do so.  Throop may have anticipated particular benefits from cultivating this clientele.  “Country Practitioners” were more likely than others to purchase by volume.  Their patronage indirectly testified to the efficacy of Throop’s medicines and his standing as a trusted apothecary.

Those factors may have helped him attract other customers who did not practice medicine.  Throop also invited “Families in Town and Country” to shop at the Golden Pestle and Mortar.  He promised them low prices, but he also emphasized customer service, stating that they “may depend on being used in the best Manner.”  In addition, he also attempted to allay concerns about purchasing counterfeit remedies.  Throop pledged to supply his customers “with genuine Medicines,” putting his own reputation on the line as a bulwark against bogus elixirs and nostrums.  When it came to patent medicines, the fear of forgeries merited reiterating that his inventory was “genuine” when he listed the choices available at his shop.

The neighborhood pharmacy is ubiquitous in the twenty-first century, but that was not the kind of business that Throop operated in Providence in the eighteenth century.  Instead, he served both local residents and “Country Practitioners” and “Families in Town and Country,” competing with apothecaries in Boston and other towns.  To do so effectively, he had to depict the many advantages of choosing the Golden Pestle and Mortar, from low prices to authentic medicines to good customer service.

October 21

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

Oct 21 - 10:21:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 21, 1769).

“He will sell as cheap as are sold in Boston, or any Part of New-England.”

In the fall of 1769, Amos Throop sold medicines at a shop “on the West Side of the Great Bridge, in Providence.” His inventory included “a fresh Assortment of Medicines, Chymical and Galenical” as well as sago and “all Sorts of Spices.” He also stocked a variety of familiar patent medicines, such as “Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Hooper’s Female Pills, Anderson’s Pills, Stoughton’s Elixir, and Hill’s Balsam of Honey.” Throughout the colonies, consumers recognized these brands. Apothecaries and shopkeepers from New England to Georgia advertised these popular patent medicines.

When they did so, they competed with each other. Their advertisements often made clear that they served not only local customers who visited their shops but also those who lived at a distance and submitted orders via letters or messengers. Throop addressed “Families in Town or Country” in his advertisement, acknowledging that he sought the patronage of customers beyond Providence. For all of his prospective customers, Throop pledged that he parted with his medicines “as cheap as are sold in Boston, or any Part of New-England.” Appeals to price were also familiar in eighteenth-century advertisements for medicines, but such comparisons were much less common. Throop did not even bother with assuring readers that he offered the best prices in town. He was so wary of competition from Boston that he framed his prices in relation to prices charged by druggists and shopkeepers there. Lest that raise questions about bargains that might be found elsewhere within the regional marketplace, he provided blanket assurances that he offered the best prices in all of New England. Perhaps claiming that he had the best prices in all of the colonies would have strained credulity!

Incorporating any sort of price comparison into an advertisement was relatively innovative in the late 1760s. It suggested that both the advertiser and consumers possessed a level of familiarity with the local and regional marketplace that allowed them to make or to assess such claims.