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.