October 4

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

Oct 4 - 10:4:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 4, 1769).

“A Compleat Assortment of MEDICINES.”

Lewis Johnson’s advertisements for medicines became a familiar sight in the Georgia Gazette in the late 1760s. Several qualities made them particularly notable, including their length, their unique format, and Johnson’s name in large gothic font as a headline. His advertisement in the October 4, 1769, edition included all of these attributes.

The compositor distributed gothic font throughout the issue, but sparingly. On the final page, four legal notices commenced by naming the colony. “Georgia” appeared in gothic font the same size as the rest of the copy in those advertisements. Another paid notice seeking overseers to manage a rice planation used “Wanted Immediately” in gothic font as a headline. The final advertisement on that page as well as another on the third page described enslaved people “Brought to the Workhouse.” That phrase in gothic type served as a standard headline for such advertisements in the Georgia Gazette, making them recognizable at a glance. One more notice, also on the third page with Johnson’s advertisement, described a house “To be Let” with that phrase in gothic font as the headline. In each instance of gothic font in the issue, it appeared in the same size as the copy for the rest of the advertisement, except for Johnson’s name. It ran in a much larger font, one larger than anything else in the newspaper except its title in the masthead. This created a striking headline that would have been difficult for readers to miss.

The length of Johnson’s advertisement also made it impossible to overlook. Listing dozens of medicines available at the apothecary’s shop, it extended two-thirds of a column. The entire issue consisted of only four pages of two columns each. Johnson’s advertisement was significantly longer than any other paid notice. It rivaled in length even the longest of news items, occupying a substantial amount of space in the issue. Considering that colonial printers charged by the amount of space rather than the number of words, Johnson’s advertisement represented a considerable investment.

Finally, the apothecary deployed unique typography that made it easier for prospective customers to read his advertisement than many others that listed their wares in dense blocks of text. Divided into three columns, his advertisement named only one item per line. Johnson did not always divide his advertisements into columns, but he
did so fairly regularly. Usually, however, he resorted to only two columns. This advertisement featured three, a graphic design decision that reduced the amount of space it occupied on the page while simultaneously introducing an innovative format that rarely appeared in advertisements in any colonial newspaper.

Johnson incorporated three visual elements that made his advertisement noteworthy and more likely to attract the attention of prospective customers. His name in large gothic font as a headline, the extraordinary length, and dividing it into three columns each on their own would have distinguished his advertisement from others in the Georgia Gazette. Combining them into a single advertisement made it even more unique. The various graphic design elements demanded that readers take notice.

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:27:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 27, 1769).

Practitioners, and others, in the Country, on sending a Line, may depend on being well used.”

Jabez Bowen, Jr., advertised “A large and general Assortment of the most valuable Drugs and Medicines” in the May 27, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. His inventory included familiar patent medicines, such as “Turlington’s Balsam of Life,” “Godfry’s Cordial,” “Bateman’s and Stoughton’s Drops,” and “Daffy’s Elixir.” In addition, he stocked several spices sometimes compounded into remedies. He testified to the authenticity of the various remedies and also made an appeal to price.

Bowen invited potential customers to visit his shop “fronting the Great Bridge” in Providence, but he did not confine his clientele only to those who resided in town. In a note at the end of his advertisement, he advised that “Practitioners, and others, in the Country, on sending a Line, may depend on being well used.” In other words, he offered the eighteenth-century equivalent of ordering through the mail. Bowen provided a service that advertisers often promoted, though apothecaries tended to do so more often than those who followed other occupations. They usually identified two sorts of clients, colleagues who practiced medicine in one capacity or another and the general public. Cultivating relationships with the former had the potential to generate significant additional sales if country doctors, apothecaries, and others decided to purchase large quantities in order to avoid running short on supplies. Customer service was an important aspect of first attracting and then maintaining relationships with any and all correspondents. To that end, Bowen did not merely state that he accepted orders from the country. Instead, he pledged that customers who sent their orders “may depend on being well used.” Others sometimes added the phrase “as if present” to underscore that they devoted the same care and attention to customers who submitted orders via the post or messenger as they did to those they served in person in the shop. Such reassurances may have helped some clients feel more comfortable placing orders from afar, more willing to give that method a chance to decide themselves if the quality of the service matched the convenience.

April 10

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 10, 1769).

“A FRESH supply of choice drugs and medicines.”

When I looked at this advertisement I wondered what kinds of “drugs and medicines” colonists had in 1769? How did colonists deal with diseases? According to Robin Kipps, who manages the Pasteur & Galt Apothecary at Colonial Williamsburg, “The sciences of biology and chemistry had not made significant impacts on the theories of disease. The big health issues of the day were not heart disease, cancer, obesity, or diabetes; they were smallpox, malaria, and childhood illnesses.” In the colonial and revolutionary periods, Americans did not have to worry about the same kind of disease that we do today. Instead, they had all kinds of other deadly diseases they had to worry about that people nowadays do not need to worry about due to advances in science and medicine. Colonists did not have the vaccines at this point in time to prevent many deadly diseases from happening and spreading to others, though they had experimented with smallpox inoculation.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

John Sparhawk had competition. He was not the only purveyor of “choice drugs and medicines” in Philadelphia who advertised in the April 10, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Robert Bass, an apothecary who regularly inserted advertisements in several local newspapers, also ran a notice, one that may have more effectively captured the attention of prospective clients.

Sparhawk, a bookseller, published a comparatively sparse advertisement. Like many other printers and booksellers in eighteenth-century America, he supplemented his income by selling other items, including patent medicines, on the side. Such was the case with the “FRESH supply” that he had “just received from London” and sold at his bookstore. He made appeals to price and quality, pledging that he sold them “as low as can be bough[t] in America of equal quality,” but otherwise did not elaborate on these patent medicines.

Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 10, 1769).

Robert Bass, on the other hand, underscored his expertise in his advertisement, using his superior knowledge to leverage readers to visit his shop to seek consultations and make purchases. In addition to using his own name as a headline, he listed his occupation, “APOTHECARY,” all in capitals as a secondary headline. He did not merely peddle patent medicines that he had imported from suppliers in London. He also “strictly prepared” medicines in his shop, filling all sorts of prescriptions or, as he called them, “Family and Practitioners Receipts.” For those who desired over-the-counter remedies, he also stocked “a Variety of Patent Medicines.” His experience and reputation as an apothecary suggested that he could more effectively recommend those nostrums to clients based on their symptoms than Sparhawk the bookseller could. Bass also carried medical equipment, further underscoring his specialization in the field.

Not every customer needed the level of expertise Bass provided. Many would have been familiar with several patent medicines. For those customers who desired to make their own selections from among the products available on the shelves, Sparhawk (and Bass as well) simply made appeals to price and quality. That model differed little from patrons choosing over-the-counter medications at retail pharmacies or other kinds of stores today. For prospective customers who required greater skill and expertise from the person dispensing medications, Bass made it clear in his advertisement that he was qualified to address their needs.

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.