September 30

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 30, 1772).

“WILLIAM SMITH, HAS removed his Medicinal Store from Front-street.”

In the fall of 1772, William Smith placed newspaper advertisements to inform the public that he recently moved yet “continues to carry on the Drug Business.”  He invited customers to visit his “Medicinal Store” at his new location, the Rising Sun on Second Street in Philadelphia.  He pledged that he was “determined always to pay particular attention to the quality of his medicines, and hopes by his care and fidelity to render full satisfaction to Practitioners in Physic, and others, who may please to favour him with their custom.”

In an effort to enlarge his share of the market, Smith placed the same advertisement in multiple newspapers.  On Wednesday, September 30, it ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.  Later in the week, it also appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on Saturday, October 3.  The advertisements in the three newspapers featured identical copy, though the compositors made different decisions about format, including font sizes and capitalization.

Smith did not choose to place his advertisement in the city’s remaining English-language newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet, on Monday, October 5, nor did he insert it in the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote for the benefit of German-speaking residents in and near Philadelphia.  The printer, had a standing offer in the masthead that “AllADVERTISEMENTS to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single, by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis,” but Smith did not avail himself of that service.  Perhaps the apothecary felt that advertising in three newspapers was sufficient.  Perhaps he spent as much as he considered prudent on marketing so opted to forego the other two newspapers.

Whatever the reason, Smith aimed for a greater level of market saturation than advertising in just one publication allowed.  That may have been especially important to him considering that he ran his shop from a new location.  He did not want customers to experience any frustration upon visiting his former location and then decide to visit competitors who continued to do business in familiar locations.  After all, Robert Bass and Townsend Speakman, both prolific advertisers, continued operating their own apothecary shops on Market Street.  Smith did not wish to lose customers to either of them, making his advertisements in three newspapers a sound investment.

June 9

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

Essex Gazette (June 9, 1772).

“He is determined to be undersold by none.”

Philip Godfrid Kast, an apothecary in Salem, regularly placed advertisements in the Essex Gazette in the early 1770s.  He also distributed an engraved trade card that included a depiction of the “Sign of the Lyon & Mortar” that marked his location.  Kast resorted to a variety of marketing appeals in his efforts to convince consumers to give him their business rather than acquire medicines from his competitors.

In an advertisement that ran on June 9, 1772, Kast declared that he “is determined to be undersold by none.”  Purveyors of all sorts of goods frequently promised low prices for their wares, some making similar claims that prospective customers would not find better bargains than they offered.  Kast explained why he was so confident that he could match and beat the prices charged by other apothecaries as well as merchants and shopkeepers who imported and sold various patent medicines.  He stated that he “has a Brother who resides in London, and purchases his Drugs at the cheapest Rate for Cash.”  His competitors may have acquired their medicines through middlemen and marked up their prices accordingly, but Kast had a direct connection that allowed him to set the best rates.  The apothecary presented this as a benefit to all of his customers, but he made a special appeal to “Gentlemen Practitioners in Physick” who were most likely to buy in volume.  That meant greater savings for them as well as greater revenues for Kast.

Yet he did not expect low prices alone would bring customers to his shop.  He also testified to the quality of his medicines and provided a guarantee, proclaiming that they were “warranted to be genuine, and the best of their Kinds.” Furthermore, his new inventory was “fresh,” having been imported from London” via a vessel that “arrived at Boston last Week.”  Kast assured prospective customers that he did not peddle remedies that had lingered on the shelves for months.  He anticipated that a combination of low prices and promises about quality would convince consumers to visit the Lion and Mortar when they needed medicines.

May 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Kelsey Savoy

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

Essex Gazette (May 26, 1772).

“Every Article in the Apothecary Way.”

Nathaniel Dabney owned a shop called “Head of HIPPOCRATES” in Salem, Massachusetts. In an advertisement from the Essex Gazette on May 25, 1772, Dabney announced he had a “fresh and full Assortment of Drugs, Medicines, Groceries, Instruments,” and more, indicating that he ran an apothecary shop. An apothecary shop in 1772 and modern pharmacies are very similar.  That inspired me to find out more about medicine in the colonies during the eighteenth century.

Individuals who ran apothecary shops, who sold or administered medicines, did not require any education or licensure, nor did physicians. In “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” Whitefield J. Bell, Jr., notes that “only one in nine Virginia physicians of the eighteenth century had attended a medical school.”[1] Physicians and apothecaries often learned from experience instead of formal training.  This began to change in the colonies in 1772, the year Dabney posted this advertisement. Bell details the Medical Society of New Jersey dedicated to getting legislation passed that required physicians to obtain licensure by the courts to practice “after examination by a board of medical men.” The society’s goal was “to discourage and discountenance all quacks, mountebanks, imposters, or other ignorant pretenders to medicine, and not to associate professionally with any except those who had been regularly initiated into medicine.”[2] Requiring training for physicians was an improvement that colonists enacted during the era of the American Revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Kelsey astutely observes that many eighteenth-century apothecary shops and twenty-first century retail pharmacies have much in common.  Neither of them exclusively carried drugs and medicines, though selling remedies of all sorts gave those establishments their primary identity.  Nathaniel Dabney (or Nathanael Dabney in other advertisements) made that clear when he selected Hippocrates, a physician from ancient Greece widely considered the “Father of Medicine,” to identify his shop.

In his newspaper notice, Dabney commenced the list of merchandise available at “the Head of HIPPOCRATES” with a “fresh and full Assortment of Drugs, [and] Medicines” and cataloged several familiar patent medicines from his “Assortment” of goods.  He sold “Turlington’s original Balsam of Life,” “Bateman’s Pectoral Drops,” “Dr. Walker’s Jesuits Drops,” “Anderson’s and Locker’s Pills,” and “Hooper’s Female [Pills],” as well as other patent medicines less commonly mentioned in newspaper advertisements.  Those nostrums were the over-the-counter medications of the day.  Customers could consult with the apothecary of they wished, just like customers ask pharmacists in retail stores for advice today, but many also selected patent medicines based on their reputation and common knowledge about the maladies they supposedly relieved.

Yet Dabney, like other apothecaries, hawked other goods.  His apothecary shop, like modern retail pharmacies, doubled as a convenience store where customers could acquire groceries, home health care equipment and supplies, and a variety of other items.  In his advertisement, Dabney promoted “Groceries,” including cinnamon, cloves, raisins, and “Flour of Mustard, by the Dozen or single Bottle.”  He also had supplies for the “Clothiers Business” and the “Painters Business,” mostly items for producing colors.  In addition, Dabney sold medical instruments to physicians, a practice not followed by most modern retail pharmacies that focus on providing care to consumers.  All the same, a visit to the Head of Hippocrates in 1772 likely would not have been that much different from a visit to CVS, Rite Aid, or other retail pharmacy today.

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[1] Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 31, no. 5 (September-October 1957): 444.

[2] Bell, “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” 453.

January 22

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 20, 1772).

“All sorts of Chymical and Galenical Medicines (truly prepared).”

When Townsend Speakman opened an apothecary shop on Market Street in Philadelphia in the early 1770s, he took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to offer his services.  In an advertisement in the January 20, 1772, edition, he introduced himself as a “Chymist and Druggist, LATE FROM LONDON.”  Like many others who migrated across the Atlantic, he asserted his credentials as a means of establishing his reputation among prospective clients.  Speakman declared that he “served a regular apprenticeship to the business.”  In addition, he “had several years further experience therein, in a house of the first reputation in LONDON.”

That accrued additional benefits for his prospective clients beyond the expertise and experience the “Chymist and Druggist” gained during his apprenticeship and subsequent employment.  His connections to an apothecary shop “of the first reputation” meant that he could “procur[e] articles of the best quality” for the “most reasonable rates” for his customers.  He vowed to pass along the savings, promising to “sell on as low terms as any in this city.”  Speakman also emphasized quality elsewhere in his advertisement.  He assured readers that he sold “all sorts of Chymical and Galenical Medicines (truly prepared).”  That phrase suggested both his skill in compounding medications and the authenticity of the ingredients he used.  To underscore the point, Speakman pledged that “Family receipts [or remedies], and physical prescriptions, are carefully and correctly compounded.”  Furthermore, he carried “the best of Drugs [and] Patent Medicines.”

As a newcomer unknown to the prospective clients that he wished to engage, Speakman sought to convince readers that he merited their trust in preparing and providing medicines.  He emphasized both his formal training through an apprenticeship as well as his additional experience working in an apothecary shop “of the first reputation” in London.  He brought his expertise to Philadelphia, vowing to supply clients with “truly prepared” medicines of the best quality.  The apothecary achieved success in the Quaker City.  In the late 1780s, he supplemented his newspaper advertisements with an engraved billhead for writing receipts for customers.

Billhead, Townsend Speakman, 1789. Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

October 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Colleen Barrett

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

Essex Gazette (October 15, 1771).

“Apothecary’s SHOP, AT THE Head of Hippocrates.”

On October 15, 1771, Nathanael Dabney advertised his apothecary shop in the Essex Gazette. Dabney sold “Drugs, Medicines, AND Groceries” in Salem, Massachusetts. This is one of many examples of advertisements for medicines in the newspapers of the period. Dabney sold medicines and other items imported from London, including “Patent Medicines of every sort from Dicey & Okell’s Original Wholesale Warehouse.”  According to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, patent medicines, like those mentioned in the advertisement, “are named after the ‘letters patent’ granted by the English crown.” Furthermore, the maker of any of these medicines had “a monopoly over his particular formula. The term ‘patent medicine’ came to describe all prepackaged medicines sold ‘over-the-counter’ without a doctor’s prescription” in later years.  Dabney also mentioned the services he provided at his shop, letting customers know that he “will wait on them at all Hours of the Day and Night.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

As Colleen notes, customer service was an important element of Nathanael Dabney’s marketing efforts.  He concluded his advertisement with a note that “Family Prescriptions” were “carefully put up, and Orders from the Country punctually obeyed.”  A manicule helped to draw attention to these services.  That Dabney “put up” prescriptions suggests that he was an apothecary who compounded medications at his shop rather than merely a shopkeeper who specialized in patent medicines.  He likely possessed a greater degree of expertise about the drugs and medicines he sold than retailers who included patent medicines among a wide array of imported goods.

Prospective customers did not need to visit Dabney’s shop “AT THE Head of Hippocrates” in Salem.  Instead, the apothecary offered the eighteenth-century equivalent of mail order service for clients who resided outside of town.  He assured them that they did not have to worry about receiving less attention than those who came into his apothecary shop.  Instead, he “punctually obeyed” their orders, echoing the sentiments of other advertisers who provided similar services.

In addition to customer service, Dabney attempted to entice potential customers with promises of quality, declaring that he imported his drugs “from the best House in LONDON.”  He made a point of mentioning that he received “Patent Medicines of every Sort from Dicey & Okell’s Original Wholesale Warehouse,” an establishment well known in London and the English provinces.  According to P.S. Brown, newspaper advertisements published in Bath in 1770 referred to “Dicey and Okell’s great original Elixir Warehouse.”[1]  Dabney may have hoped to benefit from name recognition when he included his supplier in his advertisement.

The apothecary promised low prices, stating that he sold his wares “at the cheapest rate,” but he devoted much more of his advertisement to quality and customer service.  He waited on customers whenever they needed him “at all Hours of the Day and Night,” compounded medications, and promptly dispatched orders to the countryside, providing a level of care that consumers did not necessarily receive from shopkeepers who happened to carry patent medicines.

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[1] P.S. Brown, “Medicines Advertised in Eighteenth-Century Bath Newspapers,” Medical History 20, no. 2 (April 1976):  153.

September 19

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (September 19, 1771).

“To be Sold by OLIVER SMITH, at the Golden Mortar.”

Oliver Smith, an apothecary, promoted a variety of remedies in an advertisement in the September 19, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The headline proclaimed “Best double-distilled Lavender Water,” introducing the merchandise before naming the seller.  Several other advertisements featured the same structure, including one for “Choice Cheshire CHEESE” placed by Ellis Gray and another for “THE very best of fresh Orange JUICE” from John Crosby.  Most purveyors of goods and services, on the other hand, used their names as headlines for their advertisements, including Caleb Blanchard, William Jackson, John Langdon, Henry Lloyd, and Jonathan Trott.  Thomas Walley adopted both methods.  “Teneriff Wine” appeared as the first headline and then his name as a second one.

Smith’s headline helped to distinguish his notice from others, but another element of the advertisement did so even more effectively.  A woodcut depicting a mortar and pestle appeared in the upper left corner, drawing the eye of readers.  Except for the lion and unicorn in the masthead at the top of the first page, Smith’s woodcut was the only image in that issue and the supplement that accompanied it.  Further enhancing the apothecary’s marketing efforts, the woodcut corresponded to the sign that marked the location of his shop.  He advised prospective customers that they could purchase a variety of nostrums “at the Golden Mortar” on Cornhill.  Other advertisers mentioned shop signs, but did not commission woodcuts to adorn their notices.  Crosby, for instance, regularly advertised citrus fruit “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons” in the South End, but he did not include an illustration.

Advertisers typically paid for the amount of space their notice occupied, not the number of words.  In that regard, Smith and Crosby made similar investments in marketing their wares in the September 19 edition.  Smith, however, incurred additional expense for the woodcut, an investment that he presumably believed would pay for itself by resulting in more attention and more customers.

June 25

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 25, 1771).

“Boxes of Medicines for Plantation Use … will also contain a Phial of his famous FEVER DROPS.”

When apothecary Thomas Stinson purchased the shop and inventory of another apothecary, he placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform prospective customers.  He pledged that he gave “constant Attendance” at the shop, standing ready to serve their needs.  In addition, he provided assurances that “his DRUGS and MEDICINES … are all fresh and good.”  Stinson directed his advertisement to various kinds of customers.  He addressed “his Friends and the Public,” consumers making purchases for their households, but he also sought customers who bought in greater volume.  “Gentlemen Practitioners, both in Town and Country,” Stinson declared, “may be supplied with any Quantity of Medicines on the usual reasonable Terms.”

In addition, Stinson offered a service to plantation owners and overseers, “Boxes of Medicines for Plantation Use” that they could administer on their own.  He produced and marketed an eighteenth-century version of first aid kits.  Apothecaries often mentioned similar services in their advertisements, preparing boxes containing a variety of remedies for all sorts of symptoms for families, mariners, and plantations.  Buyers benefited from the convenience of having medicines and supplies on hand when need arose, while apothecaries augmented their revenues by moving inventory that customers did not yet need and, because they bought the boxes as a precaution, might not ever need.

Stinson devoted more attention to the contents of his medicine boxes than most apothecaries, describing two of the items they contained.  Each box contained a vial of “his ELIXIR for all Kinds of cholicky Complaints” and a vial of “his famous FEVER DROPS.”  Stinson proclaimed that this nostrum was already “well known in many Parts of this Province, where it has been found effectual.”  Stinson asserted that users would not experience negative side effects, having been “innocent even to sucking Babes” when administered to them.  Some readers may have been skeptical about both the reputation and effectiveness of Stinson’s “famous FEVER DROPS.”  Including his fever drops and his elixir in the medicine box as part of the package allowed the apothecary to boost sales of items that plantation owners and overseers might not have ordered separately.  In turn, he could make even more elaborate claims about how widely his distributed those medicines that competed with patent medicines imported from England.  While many apothecaries sold medicine boxes, Stinson adapted his medicine boxes for an additional purpose, marketing the potions and panaceas he produced.

June 18

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

Essex Gazette (June 18, 1771).

“Those who live remote shall have their Orders as faithfully complied with as if present themselves.”

Apothecaries Nathanael Dabney and Philip Godfrid Kast competed for customers.  Each placed an advertisement in the June 18, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette, inviting prospective customers to their shops in Salem.  Making the choice between the two apothecaries even more visible to readers, their advertisements appeared one after the other.  Kast, the more experienced advertiser, placed the longer notice.  It extended more than a column, extensively listing the items in stock at the Sign of the Lion and Mortar.  Kast also included blurbs about patent medicines, some of them more familiar to consumers than others, such as “Dr. Hill’s Pectoral Balsam of Honey,” “Dr. Robert James’s Powder for Fevers,” “Dr Stoughton’s great Cordial Elixir for the Stomach,” and “Dr. Scott’s Powder for the Teeth.”  Dabney, on the other hand, provided a shorter list of his inventory, but also promising “every Article in the Apothecary’s Way.”  He aimed to make himself competitive with Kast.

Both apothecaries sought clients in Salem and beyond, inviting readers unable to visit their shops to submit orders.  Dabney and Kast each pledged not to favor customers who visited their shops over those who did not.  “Those who live remote,” Dabney proclaimed, “shall have their Orders as faithfully complied with as if present themselves.”  Kast deployed similar language in a nota bene that concluded his advertisement: “Those who will send their Orders shall be as well used as if present themselves.”  That included both consumers and “Practitioners … in Town and Country.”  The apothecaries described an eighteenth-century version of mail order for “DRUGS and MEDICINES,” an effort to enhance their sales and increase their revenues by offering a convenience to their customers.  Some prospective clients may have found Kast’s advertisement the more alluring of the two.  In addition to a longer list of merchandise, the blurbs about various patent medicines served as suggestions for distant customers unable to consult with the apothecary in person.  Furthermore, Kast trumpeted that he sold his wares “as reasonable, and on as good Credit, as can be purchased in Boston.”  The apothecary no doubt sought to engage every reader, but especially prospective customers outside of Salem who might have been likely to look to Boston, the larger port, for better bargains when resorting to sending orders from a distance.

Dabney and Kast promoted the assortment of medicines they carried and pledged good customer service, but Kast further embellished his marketing efforts by comparing his prices to those in Boston and by providing descriptions of certain patent medicines to help prospective customers make their choices.  For instance, Kast declared that Stoughton’s Cordial “is as necessary for all Seamen or Travellers, and others, to take with them as their daily Food.”  That level of detail required purchasing additional space in the Essex Gazette, but Kast may have determined it was well worth the expense if it drummed up additional business.

January 17

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 17, 1771).

“Each articles will be put up singly, and in the order of the inventory annexed.”

Both the size and format of Richard Tidmarsh’s advertisement on the final page of the January 17, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal likely attracted attention.  Rather than appearing in a single column, it ran across two columns.  It also extended half a column, creating a large rectangle of text that seemed to dominate the page even though it accounted for about one-third of the content.

Tidmarsh, a druggist, announced an upcoming auction of “DRUGS, MEDICINES, and SHOP FURNITURE” in advance of his departure from the colony “by the first spring vessels.”  He listed the items up for sale, in effect publishing an auction catalog as a newspaper advertisement.  That list made the format of his advertisement even more distinctive.  The introductory material extended across two columns, but the list of items for sale ran in three narrow columns that also did not correspond to the width of any columns that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.  To help prospective buyers navigate the list, Tidmarsh arranged entries for medicines in alphabetical order.  In the final column, he inserted headers in capital letters for sections enumerating “PERFUMERY,” “PATENT MEDICINES,” and “SPARE UTENSILS and FURNITURE.”  In the introduction, the apothecary explained his rationale for selling items separately rather than as a whole.  He envisioned that “practitioners, as well as Gentlemen of the trade, will have an opportunity of being supplied with such articles as they may be out of.”  Tidmarsh apparently did not anticipate any buyers for his entire inventory, but did anticipate demand for the various drugs and medicines on their own.  He offered credit to buyers who purchased a sufficient quantity and promised that the “whole of the stock of MEDICINES and DRUGS are of the first quality.”  To guide prospective buyers through the auction, he asserted that each article would be sold “in the order of the inventory annexed.”

Tidmarsh advertised an eighteenth-century version of a “going out of business” sale.  In an effort to liquidate his inventory before leaving Philadelphia, he organized an auction that would allow buyers to acquire medicines “of the first quality” at bargain prices compared to retail and perhaps even wholesale transactions.  He published an auction catalog in the public prints, its organized columns guiding prospective bidders through both the items for sale and the order.  He also encouraged participation by offering credit to those who purchased in sufficient quantities.  The unusual format of the apothecary’s advertisement also drew attention to the upcoming auction, helping to generate interest and incite bidders to attend.

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.