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.

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 30, 1770).

“BOXES of MEDICINES made up, as usual, on the shortest Notice.”

After the partnership of Carne and Wilson dissolved in 1770, apothecary Robert Carne placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to advise prospective customers that he “now carries on the Business at the Old Shop on the Bay.”  He intended to provide the same services without disruption, asserting that his shop “will continue to be supplied as amply and regularly as at any time heretofore” and that clients could depend that “their Orders will be speedily and punctually executed.”  In effect, Carne promised good customer service.

That service extended to provisioning customers with “BOXES of MEDICINES,” which Carne “made up, as usual, on the shortest Notice.”  Apothecaries and druggists in Charleston and other towns sometimes noted that they offered the convenience of putting together such boxes.  The contents consisted of a variety of the most popular medicines and supplies to prepare purchasers for the most common maladies.  In some advertisements, apothecaries noted that they produced different sorts of boxes, some for families, some for country doctors whose patients might not have access to the same range of medications available in urban ports like Charleston and Philadelphia, and some for plantation owners and overseers to tend to the illnesses of enslaved workers.

These boxes provided customers with the convenience of making a single purchase rather than shopping for the many components individually.  That also benefited the apothecaries who furnished the “BOXES of MEDICINES.”  Carne and others could include a variety of tinctures and nostrums that clients did not yet need and might never need yet wished to have on hand.  This inflated sales and generated additional revenues in a manner easily framed as a supplementary service that primarily benefited customers.  As Carne entered a new stage of his career, it made sense for him to draw special attention to these boxes in a note at the conclusion of his advertisement, complete with a manicule to direct the attention of “the Publick in general, and his Friends in particular.”  Such boxes stood to produce greater profits than individual orders.

May 24

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

May 24 - 5:24:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 24, 1770).

“AN entire Assortment of all Kinds of DRUGS.”

In eighteenth-century American newspapers, compositors did not organize advertisements according to category or classification.  Advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, advertisements concerning runaway servants and enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage, and notices placed for a variety of other purposes appeared one after the other.  This required active reading on the part of subscribers in their efforts to locate advertisements of interest.

Occasionally, however, compositors did cluster together certain kinds of advertisements.  When the female seed sellers of Boston placed their advertisements in the spring, compositors working for several of the newspapers published in that city often tended to place their notices in a single column in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Similarly, the compositor for the Pennsylvania Gazette often arranged legal notices placed by the sheriff one after the other during the same period, though this may have been prompted in part from receiving them all at once.  Still, notices placed by different sheriffs often tended to appear in succession in a single column.  Whatever the explanation, these examples were exceptions rather than standard practice.

Did compositors sometimes experiment with grouping other advertisements according to their purpose?  That may have been the case in the May 24, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Advertisements appeared on the third and fourth page of the standard issue as well as both pages of the supplement.  Advertisements placed by apothecaries and druggists could have been dispersed throughout the issue, yet three of them ran together in the upper left corner of the final page.  Robert Bass, apothecary, advertised “AN entire fresh Assortment of all Kinds of DRUGS [and] … a great Variety of Patent Medicines.”  Duffield and Delany, druggists, promoted their “fresh and general Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”  John Day and Company listed some of the items available among their “LARGE and general assortment of the very best Drugs” at their “Medicinal Store.”  Due to their placement one after the other, readers could easily consult and compare these advertisements.

Yet if that were the intention of the compositor, it was not fully realized.  Further down the column, separated by four advertisements (a real estate notice, another for horses and a carriage for sale, one for grocery items, and the last for hardware), another advertisement announced that John Gilbert, physician and surgeon, had opened “AN APOTHECARY’S SHOP.”  A newcomer to the city, Gilbert focused on establishing his credentials rather than providing a list of medicines similar to those that appeared in the advertisements by Bass, Duffield and Delany, and John Day and Company.  On the previous page, Isaac Bartram and Moses Bartram, apothecaries, ran an advertisement that more closely resembled those placed by their competitors.

The cluster of advertisements placed by apothecaries and druggists in the May 24,1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette was notable because such placement was unusual.  Elsewhere in the same issue and its supplement, the compositor arranged legal notices together, but not all of them.  No particular organizing principle seems to have guided the placement of other advertisements, except for fitting them to the page to achieve columns of equal length.  Perhaps the cluster of advertisements for Robert Bass, Duffield and Delany, and John Day and Company was a mere coincidence.  Alternately, it may have been a rudimentary attempt at classifying and organizing at least some of the advertisements for the benefit of readers.

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).