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.

November 27

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

Essex Gazette (November 27, 1770).

“At the Sign of the Lion and Mortar.”

In the fall of 1770, Philip Godfrid Kast, an apothecary, placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to inform potential customers that he carried “a general Assortment of Medicines” at his shop “At the Sign of the Lion and Mortar” in Salem, Massachusetts.  Purveyors of goods and services frequently included shop signs in their newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, usually naming the signs that marked their own location but sometimes providing directions in relation to nearby signs.  On occasion, they included woodcuts that depicted shop signs, but few went to the added expense.  Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements provide an extensive catalog of shop signs that colonists encountered as they traversed city streets in early America, yet few of those signs survive today.

Kast did not incorporate an image of the Sign of the Lion and Mortar into his newspaper advertisements in the fall of 1770, but four years later he distributed a trade card with a striking image of an ornate column supporting a sign that depicted a lion working a mortar and pestle.  Even if the signpost was exaggerated, the image of the sign itself likely replicated the one that marked Kast’s shop.  Nathaniel Hurd’s copperplate engraving for the trade card captured more detail than would have been possible in a woodcut for a newspaper advertisement.  Absent the actual sign, the engraved image on Kast’s trade card provided the next best possible option in terms of preserving the Sign of the Lion and Mortar given the technologies available in the late eighteenth century.  Trade cards, however, were much more ephemeral than newspapers and the advertisements they contained.  That an image of the Sign of the Lion and Mortar survives today is due to a combination of luck, foresight (or accident) on the part of Kast or an eighteenth-century consumer who did not discard the trade card, and the efforts of generations of collectors, librarians, catalogers, conservators, and other public historians.  Compared to woodcuts depicting shop signs in newspaper advertisements, trade cards like those distributed by Kast even more accurately captured the elaborate details.  Those shop signs contributed to a rich visual landscape of marketing in early America.

Philip Godfrid Kast’s Trade Card, Engraved by Nathaniel Hurd, Boston, 1774 (American Antiquarian Society).

November 15

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

South-Carolina Gazette (November 15, 1770).

“ELIXIRS … PILLS … WATERS.”

The partnership of Carne and Poinsett sold a variety of medicines and medical supplies at their shop on Elliott Street in Charleston.  In a newspaper advertisement that ran for six weeks in the late fall of 1770, they advised prospective clients of a “LARGE Parcel of DRUGS and MEDICINES” and “INSTRUMENTS” they had just imported.  Like apothecaries and others who sold popular patent medicines, they provided a list for consumers to examine in advance of visiting their shop.  Carne and Poinsett, however, adopted an innovative approach to organizing their “COMPOLETE ASSORTMENT” of “FAMILY MEDICINES” within their advertisement.

Most advertisers simply listed the various patent medicines in paragraphs of dense text, expecting readers to sort through all of them.  A smaller number of advertisers enumerated one remedy per line, often dividing their notices into two columns, thus allowing readers to peruse their inventory more easily.  Still, they did not impose any particular organizing principle on the merchandise in their advertisements.

Carne and Poinsett categorized their medicines and grouped them together for the convenience of prospective clients who encountered their advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette.  Rather than have Fraunces’s Female Elixir, Hooper’s Pills, and Stewart’s Tincture appear one after another, they instead listed all of the elixirs together, all of the pills together, and all of the tinctures together.  They did the same for waters and essences.  Rather than clutter the advertisement by repeating the words “elixir,” “pills,” “tincture,” and “water,” they instead inserted those words just once, along with printing ornaments that made clear they identified categories of medicines.  Doing so created more white space within the advertisement, which further enhanced its readability.

In their efforts to market patent medicines to prospective clients, Carne and Poinsett produced an organized catalog condensed to fit within a newspaper advertisement.  While compositors usually exercised discretion when it came to the format of notices, that does not seem to have been the case with Carne and Poinsett’s advertisement.  They placed the same notice in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, featuring the same graphic design.  That would have been too much of a coincidence to attribute to the creativity of the compositors of the two newspapers.  Carne and Poinsett certainly submitted copy with instructions for how it should appear in print.

October 8

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

Boston-Gazette (October 8, 1770).

“All the Patenteed Medicines, too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.”

Oliver Smith advertised a “compleat Assortment of the very best DRUGGS and MEDICINES” in the October 8, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  He sold his remedies individually, but also offered “Family and Ship Boxes” that packaged together “most of the Medicines generally in Use” along with directions for administering them.  These eighteenth-century versions of first aid kits allowed apothecaries to increase their sales by asking consumers to anticipate possible future needs for a variety of medicines rather than wait until they had a specific need for any particular medicine.  Smith and others marketed “Family and Ship Boxes” as a convenience for their customers, but they also amounted to additional revenue for the sellers.

Smith also informed readers that he carried “All the Patenteed Medicines, too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.”  Not listing those items saved Smith both space and money.  He expected that consumers were so familiar with the array of patent medicines on the market that he did not need to name them.  This strategy also indicated confidence that he had on hand a complete inventory.  They could depend on him carrying Turlington’s Original Balsam of Life, Godfrey’s General Cordial, Walker’s Jesuit Drops, Dr. Stoughton’s Elixir, Hooper’s Pills, Greenough’s Tincture for the Teeth and Gums, Bateman’s Pectoral Drops, and a variety of other patent medicines that apothecaries, shopkeepers, and even printers frequently listed in their advertisements.  One column over from Smith’s advertisement, William Jones did indeed name all of those nostrums and others.

Much of Smith’s advertisement focused on convenience.  In addition to selling “Family and Ship Boxes” and stocking a complete inventory of patent medicines, he operated his shop at a convenient location, “the next Door Northward of Doctor John Greenleaf’s in Cornhill.”  Prospective customers who had occasion to consult with Dr. Greenleaf could then visit Smith’s apothecary shop next door to select any medicines that the doctor recommended.  Smith also noted that the shop had been “lately improved” to make it more appealing to customers.  With the various conveniences he provided, Smith sought to make it as simple as possible for prospective customers to care for their health.

September 1

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

Sep 1 - 9:1:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 1, 1770).

“At the Sign of the Unicorn and Mortar.”

On the first day of September in 1770, Benjamin Bowen and Benjamin Stelle advertised “MEDICINES, A full and general Assortment, Chymical and Galenical,” in the Providence Gazette.  They informed prospective customers that they could purchase these medicines “at the well-known Apothecary’s Shop just below the Church, at the Sign of the Unicorn and Mortar.”  In case that shop was not as familiar to readers as Bowen and Stelle suggested it might be, they named the sign that adorned it.  That landmark identified the exact location to acquire “the best of MEDICINES” and “CHOCOLATE, by the Pound, Box, or Hundred Weight.”

Newspaper advertisements placed by entrepreneurs like Bowen and Stelle testify to the visual landscape that colonists encountered as they traversed the streets of towns and cities in eighteenth-century America.  In addition to the “Sign of the Unicorn and Mortar,” that same issue of the Providence Gazette included directions to John Carter’s printing office at “the Sign of Shakespeares Head.”  Not all advertisers always included their shop signs in their notices.  Joseph Russell and William Russell placed an advertisement for gun powder and shot that did not make reference to the “Sign of the Golden Eagle.”  On other occasions, however, they were just as likely to include the sign without their name, so familiar had it become in Providence.

Very few eighteenth-century shop signs survived into the twenty-first century.  Evidence that the “Unicorn and Mortar,” “Shakespeares Head,” and the “Golden Eagle” once marked places of commercial activity and aided colonists in navigating the streets of Providence and other places comes from newspaper advertisements and other documents from the period.  Any catalog of such signs draws heavily from advertisements since colonists so often referenced them in their notices.  Even those who did not have shop signs of their own listed their locations in relation to nearby signs, suggesting the extent that shop signs helped colonists make sense of their surroundings and navigate the streets of towns and cities.

August 27

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

Aug 27 - 8:27:1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 27, 1770).

“I took Dr. Weed’s Syrup for the Bloody Flux, which gave me immediate ease.”

An advertisement for “Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux” in the August 27, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle consisted almost entirely of testimonials.  One after another, four patients who had taken the elixir described how it had cured them.  For instance, Margaret Lee testified, “FOR the good of those who are afflicted with the Bloody Flux, I would inform them that I was lately seized with the disorder, and had it very bad; but by taking Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux, according to directions, I found immediate ease and by repeating it a few times was perfectly cured.”  Each of the testimonials was dated within the past month, making them current endorsements of the nostrum.

Except for a headline that read “To the PUBLIC,” the advertisement did not include any additional information, not even instructions about where to purchase Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux.  George Weed apparently did not believe that such details were necessary given his stature in the community and long experience serving residents of Philadelphia.  Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux was not a mass-produced patent medicine imported from across the Atlantic.  It did not bear the name of a physician or apothecary famous throughout the British Empire.  Instead, Weed prepared his syrup and powder in Philadelphia and sought to cultivate local and regional acclaim for those medicines.  In an advertisement he placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette three years earlier, he touted his thirty of experience, including “the last seven Years of which he served in the Pennsylvania Hospital” where he “attended to all the Administrations of Medicine, and Chirurgical Operations in that Infirmary.”  Even though Philadelphia was the largest city in the colonies in 1770, it was still a small enough town that Weed could assume that readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle either already knew of him or could easily learn more by asking their acquaintances.  Whether or not that was the case, Weed gambled on making an impression by devoting his entire advertisement to testimonials and trusting that his reputation would do the rest of the work necessary to direct prospective patients to his shop.

August 20

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

Aug 20 - 8:20:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 20, 1770).

“Doctor’s Boxes … are carefully prepared.”

Peter Roberts advertised “An Assortment of the best DRUGS and MEDICINES” as well as other medical supplies, including “Surgeons Instruments,” “Iron and Marble Mortars and Pestles,” and “a great Variety of Smelling Bottles” in the August 20, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  In addition to listing his wares, he adopted two other marketing strategies commonly deployed by apothecaries and others who sold medicines.  In both, he emphasized convenience as an important part of the customer service he provided.

Roberts informed prospective customers that “Doctor’s Boxes of various Prices, with proper Directions, are carefully prepared and put up for Ships or private Families.”  He produced an eighteenth-century version of a first aid kit, packaging together several useful items that buyers did not need at the moment but would likely find useful when need did arise.  Even if the purchasers never used some of those items but merely had them on hand out of caution, Roberts still generated revenue for each item included in those “Doctor’s Boxes.”  At the same time, he sold a sense of security to those who felt better prepared for illnesses, injuries, and emergencies because they had a variety of medical supplies on hand.  To enhance that sense of security, Roberts included “proper Directions” in each box he prepared.  Buyers benefited from the convenience of having medicines, medical supplies, and directions easily accessible in those “Doctor’s Boxes.”

Roberts also offered medical professionals the convenience of placing their orders through the post or messenger rather than visiting his shop “opposite the West Door of the Town-House, BOSTON.”  He advised that “Practitioners in Town and Country may depend on being as well used by Letter as if present themselves.”  Roberts likely hoped to increase his share of the market by assuring prospective customers who could not come to his shop because they were too busy or because they resided too far away that he would not provide second-rate service.  He underscored that their business was important to him.

Roberts made clear in his advertisement that he did more than merely dispense drugs and sell medical equipment.  He aimed to provide a level of service and convenience that added value to the merchandise he offered for sale.  He intended that such marketing strategies would attract customers choosing among the many purveyors of patent medicines and other medical supplies in colonial Boston.

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.