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.

**********

[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.