November 1

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

Nov 1 - 11:1:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 1
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 1, 1768).

“Offers his Attendance gratis, to every Person in Charles-Town, whose Circumstances or Situation demand it.”

When T. Lowder arrived in Charleston and established his own medical practice in 1768, he placed an advertisement to introduce himself to the residents of the city and its environs. Like many other physicians who placed newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, Lowder first provided his credentials to potential clients who might avail themselves of his services. He indicated that he had worked as “MIDWIFE and APOTHECARY, to St. Peter’s Hospital” in Bristol. Furthermore, he reported that “he has for some Years been largely engaged in” the “Practice of Midwifery.” Although he did not provide the particulars, Lowder stated that he had received “a regular, physical Education.” He hoped that prospective clients would consider it, in combination with “a considerable Degree of Experience,” as “sufficient Qualifications.” He also pledged to exert the “utmost Assiduity” in attending to his patients. As a newcomer to the city, Lowder did not enjoy a local reputation. Until he could establish that he was not “deficient” as a midwife and apothecary, he relied on his credentials to promote his services to prospective clients who otherwise knew little else about him.

To aid in establishing his reputation in the busy port, Lowder “offers his Attendance gratis, to every Person in Charles-Town, whose Circumstances or Situation demand it.” To that end, he reserved three hours each afternoon for consulting with “The Poor” at his office on Church Street. Offering “Advice in all Cases” provided an opportunity to work with local patients who could then testify to his skill and care. Lowder likely hoped that demonstrating his competence in cases that he attended without charge would yield additional clients from among the ranks of residents who could afford to pay his fees. Providing free medical advice to the poor also attested to his character, further enhancing the public relations campaign Lowder launched in an advertisement introducing himself to colonists in Charleston. In case his credentials were not enough to attract clients, his altruism might attract the attention necessary for the newcomer to sustain his practice.

November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 28, 1767).

“Practitioners, and others, in the country, on sending a line, may depend on being as well used as by any apothecary in New-England.”

Jabez Bowen, Jr., inserted an advertisement promoting his “LARGE and general assortment of the most valuable DRUGS and MEDICINES, both chymical and galenical,” in the November 28, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. In it, he listed a variety of popular patent medicines as well as medical equipment, all of it stocked “At his SHOP, fronting the Great Bridge, in PROVIDENCE.” Realizing that the Providence Gazette circulated far beyond that port, Bowen included a note to “Practitioners, and others, in the country” who might not be able to visit his shop themselves. He offered a mail order service, promising that “on sending a line, [they] may depend on being as well used as by any apothecary in New-England, the pay being adequate.”

Bowen knew that he faced competition from other apothecaries, not only those from Providence but also others from Boston, a much larger city. Those competitors distributed their advertisements throughout New England and beyond via four newspapers, giving them another advantage over Bowen. Although shopkeepers sometimes advertised that they served customers “in the country” when they sent orders by mail, apothecaries most regularly incorporated this marketing strategy into their advertisements. In his attempts to operate a prosperous business, Bowen also participated in this practice, proclaiming that he would not be overshadowed by competitors from Providence, Boston, or anywhere else. His customers could “depend on being as well used as by any apothecary in New-England.” In making this claim, Bowen offered both service and value to prospective customers.

Yet he also made clear that he aimed to establish commercial relationships mutually beneficial to both parties. He qualified his pledge that customers would be “as well used as by any apothecary” with the caveat of “the pay being adequate.” He was not so desperate for business that he would allow customers to take advantage of him. Bowen sold his medicines and supplies “on the most reasonable terms,” but expected clients to acknowledge the value of his wares and the service he provided in packaging orders and dispatching them to “the country.” In so doing, he indicated that he was as professional and as competent as his counterparts in Boston, capable of delivering on the promises he made in his advertisements.

September 20

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

Sep 20 - 9:17:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 17, 1767).

“Many other Medicines.”

In addition to working as a steward and apothecary at the Pennsylvania Hospital, George Weed sold a variety of medicines from his home “at the Corner of Arch and Front-streets” in Philadelphia. Regardless of the malady, Weed seemed to have some sort of remedy for every patient: “an excellent Syrup to cure the Bloody Flux,” “a Balsamick Syrup, which cures Colds, Coughs, Shortness of Breath, Spitting of Blood,” and other symptoms of consumption, and “a Sudorifick Elixir, which cures the Gout and Rheumatism … by a gentle Sweat.” He also peddled “Fine Cordials for Infants,” but was also prepared “to cure the Venereal Disease in all its Stages” for adult patients

In the 1770s, the apothecary assumed the title of “Dr. George Weed” in various advertisements, though this may have been a courtesy initially bestowed by patients and associates who benefited from consuming or selling his medicines. In 1767, he proclaimed that he had been “bred to the Practice of PHYSICK and SURGERY,” deploying a phrase that often denoted some sort of formal education or apprenticeship. Whatever impression such wording suggested to readers, Weed may have been referring to his “more than 30 Years Experience” during which time he “had the greatest Opportunity to gain Skill, from his own immediate Observations, and the Advice of the ablest Physicians of this Province.” If potential customers misunderstood the nature of his training, that hardly mattered compared to the “greatest Attention and Integrity” he devoted to “the Relief of the Sick, the Wounded, Infirm and Distressed.”

Weed’s employment at the Pennsylvania Hospital came to an end in 1767. Once he found himself in the position of earning a living “in a more private Station,” he may have considered his previous affiliation with the hospital sufficient for taking the title of doctor if it meant convincing more prospective customers to purchase his nostrums and tinctures. Calling himself “Dr. George Weed” bestowed additional authority as he marketed the medicines he mixed to customers in Philadelphia and exported them to other colonies. Weed did not consistently use this title in advertisements he placed during the final year of his life, but the Pennsylvania Evening Post referred to him as “Dr. GEORGE WEED” when announcing his death on February 1, 1777. For nearly a year, his widow, Elizabeth, subsequently sought to mobilize the clout associated with “Doctor George Weed” as she advertised that she continued to sell medicines he prepared before his death.

Although the apothecary did not tout himself as “Dr. George Weed” in his advertisements immediately after leaving the Pennsylvania Hospital, as more time elapsed he may have realized the benefits of shading his qualifications just slightly in order to sell his drugs. Patients who published testimonials, shopkeepers who sold his elixirs, and newspaper editors who reported his death all eventually granted him the title of doctor, perhaps out of respect for his skill and experience if not in recognition of any particular formal training.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:13:1767 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (July 14, 1767).

“The following BOOKS.”

Compared to newspapers published in major port cities in the 1760s, Hartford’s Connecticut Courant included relatively little advertising. Even compared to other newspapers from smaller towns (such as Savannah’s Georgia Gazette, Portsmouth’s New-Hampshire Gazette, and the New-London Gazette) the amount of space the Connecticut Courant devoted to commercial notices and other sorts of paid advertisements was modest, usually limited to a few short items on the final page or scattered throughout an issue.

This aspect of Thomas Green’s newspaper made Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement particularly striking and unexpected. In addition to promoting the “large and universal Assortment of fresh genuine MEDICINE” they had just imported from London, the apothecaries also listed scores of books they sold. Their advertisement extended across the entire page, divided into four columns (rather than three columns throughout the rest of the newspaper) in order to squeeze in as many titles as possible.

In addition to its length, Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement dominated the front page of the Connecticut Courant; it hardly could have escaped the notice of subscribers and other readers. It also would have been readily visible to anyone who observed someone reading the newspaper, especially if it was held aloft while perusing the items in the center pages. Except for the masthead at the top and a snippet of news relayed from New York at the bottom, the apothecaries’ advertisement filled the entire first page.

Lathrop and Smith almost certainly were familiar with the standards and conventions of newspaper advertising in Hartford, yet they likely also read newspapers from Boston and New York, at least occasionally, since eighteenth-century newspapers tended to circulate far beyond their places of publication. Certain booksellers, especially John Mein in Boston and Garret Noel in New York, frequently placed lengthy advertisements listing the titles they stocked. With those notices and others as models of what was possible when it came to newspaper advertising, Lathrop and Smith devised their own marketing efforts accordingly. Their advertisement more closely replicated those placed by their counterparts in other cities than the usual notices for consumer goods and services in their local newspaper. They designed an advertisement considered appropriate and effective among others who pursued the same occupation.

Jul 13 - 7:13:1767 Front Page Connecticut Courant
Front Page of the Connecticut Courant (July 13, 1767).

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (June 4, 1767).

“Genuine Medicines to be sold in New-York, by GERARDUS DUYCKINCK Merchant, only.”

Several apothecaries operated shops in New York and advertised in the local newspapers in the spring of 1767, but they were not the only residents who sold medicines in the city. Gerardus Duyckinck, a merchant who ran the “UNIVERSAL STORE, Or the MEDLEY of GOODS … At the Sign of the Looking-Glass, and Druggist Pot,” also peddled remedies.[1] As he was not an apothecary himself, he dressed up his advertisements with several sorts of puffery in order to compete with others who specialized in compounding drugs and selling patent medicines.

For instance, Duyckinck opened his advertisement with what appeared to be some sort of official proclamation that bestowed some degree of exclusivity on the merchant: “To the PUBLICK. By Virtue of the King’s Royal Patent for Great-Britain, Ireland, and the Plantations, for many Patent Medicines, to the Proprietors of each, to enjoy the full Benefit, are now sold under the Royal Sanction, by Messieurs William and Cluer Dicey, and Comp. of London, who now appoint their genuine Medicines to be sold in New-York, By GERARDUS DUYCKINCK Merchant, only.” Although the advertisement listed many tinctures and nostrums advertised and sold by several druggists and apothecaries in New York, the grandiloquent language implied that Duyckinck alone possessed the right to peddle those cures. Anyone else did so without official sanction.

This also allowed Duyckinck to warn readers against counterfeits and assure potential customers that he sold only authentic medicines. He did so in two ways. In a nota bene, he announced that all the drugs on his list had been “bought by William and Cluer Dicey, and Comp. from the original Ware-Houses, and warranted genuine.” In addition, he provided “Proper Directions to each … to avoid the Consequence of Counterfeits.” Duyckinck did not outright accuse his competitors of selling counterfeits, but the several aspects of his advertisement worked together to create doubts about the efficacy and authenticity of any medicines purchased from other vendors. Patent medicines were advertised far and wide in colonial newspapers. By inserting these enhancements to what otherwise would have been a standard list-style advertisement, Duyckinck devised a marketing strategy that distinguished him from his competitors.

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[1] For this description of his store, see the other advertisement Duyckinck placed on June 4, 1767, a list-style notice of an assortment of imported goods in the New-York Journal. It briefly mentioned “Drugs and Medicines” near the end.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (May 11, 1767).

“None but the best of Medicines.”

The mononymous Steuart, “DRUGGIST and APOTHECARY, At the GOLDEN HEAD” on Queen Street in New York, crafted an advertising campaign intended to maximize market penetration. Most advertisers inserted paid notices in only one newspaper, though enterprising entrepreneurs sometimes promoted their goods and services in multiple publications. Rarely did advertisers in New York, however, invest the effort or expense in placing advertisements in all four of the city’s newspapers in a single week in 1767. Steuart, however, advertised in the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury on May 11, as well as in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette: Or, Weekly Post-Boy on May 7. In all except that final publication, he was fortunate that his notice appeared on the front page.

It might be tempting to conclude that a recent relocation made such advertising imperative. The advertisements indicated that he had “removed from between Burling’s and Beekman’s-Slip, to the House lately occupied by Messrs. Walter and Thomas Buchannen, in Queen-Street, (between Hanover-Square and the Fly-Market:).” The move certainly provided one motive for advertising in as many newspapers as possible, but Steuart also competed with McLean and Treat, prolific advertisers who inserted their own notices for their “Medicinal Store, in Hanover-square” in three out of four of New-York’s newspapers that same week. McLean and Treat had also been advertising in multiple newspapers for several weeks before Steuart’s notices appeared. In addition, other apothecaries and shopkeepers who sold medicines took to the public prints to promote their ware that week, including Edward Agar in the New-York Journal and the New-York Mercury; Thomas Bridgen Attwood in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette; and Gerardus Duyckinck in the New-York Gazette: Or, Weekly Post-Boy, the New-York Journal, and the New-York Mercury.

Steuart stated that he “hopes his Friends in Town and Country will still continue to Favour him with their Custom.” He had established a clientele and wanted them to follow him to his new location on Queen Street. While that may have been reason enough to post an advertisement in each of the city’s newspapers, Steuart also realized that he faced competition from several other druggists who advertised aggressively. Getting his share of the market required advertising. Had his notices been intended solely to inform readers of his new location, it would not have been necessary to make appeals to quality – “none but the best of Medicines” – or price – “on as low Terms as possible” – or variety recently arrived from London – “just imported … a fresh and general Assortment.”

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:6:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 6, 1767).

“A GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF MEDICINES.”

Lewis Johnson operated an apothecary shop in colonial Savannah, though his advertisement did not indicate if he compounded remedies onsite in addition to selling “A GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF MEDICINES” that included ingredients and readymade elixirs. For the latter category, he depended on customers’ familiarity with established brands, listing several popular patent medicines recently imported from London. These included “Daffy’s elixir, … Squire’s elixir, Bateman’s drops, Stoughton’s ditto, Godrey’s cordial, Turlington’s balsam, James’s powders strong and mild, and Anderson’s pills.” Johnson expected that patients were already familiar with the symptoms each of these medicines purported to relieve. Few products had so firmly established brand identities in the eighteenth century. In terms of name recognition and, sometimes, packaging materials, creators of patent medicines led the way in developing branding as an effective marketing strategy.

In addition to the half dozen or so pills and potions already noted, Johnson also carried the “Family Medicines of Dr. Hill’s,” several different elixirs associated with the same physician, each intended for specific indications. For instance, patients suffering from gout and rheumatism could purchase Hill’s “Elixir of bardana,” but those with colds, coughs, and even consumption should instead choose the “Balsam of honey.” Johnson listed nearly as many tinctures and elixirs from Hill’s “Family Medicines” as the other sorts of patent medicines combined. In this regard, Hill had worked out an effective system for increasing sales. Many competitors either marketed their medicines as cure-alls or specified an astonishing array of symptoms they relieved. Hill, on the other hand, associated particular medical problems with specific medicines formulated with unique ingredients considered especially efficacious for the circumstances. In so doing, he multiplied the number of potential sales possible for each customer.

The assorted remedies Lewis Johnson stocked in his apothecary shop would certainly look strange to modern consumers, but the experience of shopping there would not have been that much different than visiting a twenty-first-century retail pharmacy. Customers recognize certain brands. When feeling ill, they find comfort in selecting familiar remedies, often expressing preferences for one over another even when the competing brands combat the same symptoms.

September 15

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

sep-15-9151766-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (September 15, 1766).

“All Persons may be supplied with DRUGS and MEDICINES of the freshest and best Kinds.”

In his capacity as executor of Thomas Aston’s estate, William Coffin, Jr., placed an advertisement asking “All Persons that have any Demand upon the Estate … to bring in their Accounts.” Likewise, “all those Persons that are indebted to said Estate … are desired to come and settle with said Executor.” Such announcements were fairly standard in eighteenth-century America.

The next portion of the advertisement, however, deviated from most estate notices placed by executors. Coffin announced that he “proposed to carry on the Business of the Shop as heretofore.” Aston had been an apothecary. Coffin marketed the remaining inventory of “DRUGS and MEDICINES of the freshest and best kinds” that had been imported from England the previous spring. Coffin was not simply clearing out existing inventory. He reported that “another [shipment of medicines] is expected to arrive this Fall from England.” In addition, he carried “Groceries and Dye Stuffs.”

Coffin and Aston’s relationship was not readily apparent in this advertisement, though it would have been well known to residents of Boston. Aston, an apothecary, was father-in-law to Coffin, a merchant and shopkeeper. Their familial connection tied together their business interests, even prompting Coffin to peddle the “DRUGS and MEDICINES” that had previously been his father-in-law’s specialty.

That’s not to say that Coffin lacked experience selling medicines. He began placing advertisements in Boston’s newspapers at least a decade earlier, though he initially promoted “CHOICE Philadelphia FLOUR” exclusively (Boston-Gazette, July 5, 1765). By the early 1760s he was also advertising goods imported from London, especially hardware. Throughout that period his advertisements indicated that he moved from location to location, setting up shop at various stores and warehouses in Boston. He continued to diversify the merchandise he sold, placing an advertisement for a variety of textiles, hardware, and groceries that he sold “At Store No. 12 on the Long Wharf” (Boston Evening-Post, October 22, 1764; Boston-Gazette, October 29, 1764)). In the same advertisement he noted that he “could be spoke with at Dr. Aston’s, next Door to the Governor’s.” It was only in subsequent advertisements that Coffin included “A general Assortment of Drugs and Medicines” among the inventory listed in his advertisements (Boston-Gazette, December 2, 1765).

Coffin almost certainly did not have the same expertise as his father-in-law, an apothecary, when it came to “DRUGS and MEDICINES,” but their familial relationship and mentorship by the elder man likely played a role in Coffin’s decision to expand his business interests.