November 3

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 3, 1773).

“Dr. Keyser’s Pills … warranted genuine.”

Townsend Speakman and Christopher Carter, “CHYMISTS and DRUGGISTS,” advertised widely in October and November 1773.  They placed advertisements simultaneously in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, and the Pennsylvania Packet.  Each of those advertisements promoted raisins, figs, and currants as well as “an Assortment of the freshest DRUGS and PATENT MEDICINES.”  They offered the “most saleable Articles in large Quantities” to shopkeepers and others who planned to retail them.  Printers, for instance, often supplemented revenues from other sources by peddling patent medicines.

On November 1, the Pennsylvania Packet ran an abbreviated version of Speakman and Carter’s advertisement.  In notices in the other three newspapers during that week, the apothecaries highlighted a “Parcel of Keyser’s famous Pills, from the Importer in London, with full Directions for their Use.”  They pledged that “the Public may be assured these Pills are the genuine Sort,” and to demonstrate that was indeed the case “they have inserted the Copy of a Certificate received with [the pills], the Original of which may be seen by any Purchaser.”  The copy of that certificate comprised the final third of the advertisement.  In it, James Cowper, “Doctor of Physic,” declared himself “the only legal Proprietor of a Medicine, called KEYSER’S PILLS, in England.”  Furthermore, he certified that Speakman and Carter, “Chymists and Druggists, in Philadelphia, are my only Correspondents to whom I send the above Pills in that Part of the World.”  Consumers did not need to worry about purchasing counterfeit pills if they acquired them from Speakman and Carter.

According to another advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal, however, customers in Philadelphia had another option for obtaining Keyser’s Pills without worrying about getting duped by unscrupulous sellers.  That advertisement appeared immediately below Speakman and Carter’s advertisement, a rather cheeky placement considering that it listed William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, as local agents who sold the pills.  Speakman and Carter paid the Bradfords to run their advertisement, complete with the certificate, and they may have expected competition but not efforts to outright undermine their marketing strategy.  The advertisement replicated James Rivington’s “Every One their own Physician” notice from Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, along with a few additions.  In addition to listing the Bradfords as local agents, a letter from Rivington to the Bradfords followed the testimonials.

Just as Speakman and Carter reprinted Cowper’s certificate in its entirety, the Bradfords published Rivington’s entire letter.  He noted that he saw “an advertisement in the Philadelphia Papers, relating to Dr. Keyser’s Pills, importing that they were procured from Dr. Cowper, of London, and warranted genuine.”  Rivington could do one better.  “I think it very proper the Public should be assured,” he trumpeted, “that the Pills, which you have had from me, and now advertize for sale, were imported by me, immediately from Mr. Keyser himself, at Paris.”  In addition, Rivington offered to show Keyser’s “letters and correspondence for some years past … to any person, who may require a sight of them.”  Furthermore, Rivington was also vigilant about counterfeits, reporting that he “detected a counterfeit sort, exposed to sale in New-York, of which Mr. Keyser has sent me a written declaration.”  Rivington concluded by inviting the Bradfords to insert his letter in their newspaper so “the Public may be once more informed you have the Pills sent directly from Mr. Keyser” to New York and then forwarded to Philadelphia.

It was not the first time that printers who sold Keyser’s Pills became embroiled in disputes over who stocked authentic medicines.  In the summer of 1772, printers in South Carolina pursued a feud in their newspapers, sometimes alluding to notices placed by their competitors and sometimes responding to them directly.  Among the many purveyors of Keyser’s Pills, a great many claimed that they carried genuine medicines and possessed some sort of exclusive right to market them in their town.

September 6

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

South-Carolina Gazette (September 3, 1772).

“KEYSER’s, Lockyer’s, Hooper’s, and Anderson’s PILLS … all warranted GENUINE, from their original Warehouses.”

Of the several entrepreneurs who advertised “DRUGS & MEDICINES” for sale at their shops in Charleston in September 1772, Edward Gunter provided the most complete catalog of his “large and complete ASSORTMENT.”  He listed several patent medicines “all warranted GENUINE, from their original Warehouses” as well as “Double distilled Rose, Lavender, Honey, and Hungary Waters” and “Cinamon, Citron, and Orange Cordial Waters.”  He also carried an array of supplies and equipment, including “labelled Ointment Pots,” “Glass, Marble, and Bell-Metal Mortars and Pestles,” “best London and common Lancets,” and “Pewter Glyster and Ivory Syringes.”

Gunter commenced his list with “KEYSER’s, Lockyer’s, Hooper’s, and Anderson’s PILLS,” leading with a cure for venereal disease that had recently been at the center of a public dispute between the printers of the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Throughout the month of July, Charles Crouch and Powell, Hughes, and Company engaged in a feud that started over how best to market “Dr. KEYSER’S famous PILLS” and eventually descended into insinuations that the other printer sold counterfeit medicines.  Following the death of Edward Hughes at the end of July, Thomas Powell and Company asserted that they “received a Quantity of Dr. KEYSER’S GENUINE PILLS, from Mr. James Rivington, Bookseller, in New-York, who is the ONLY Person that is appointed (by the Proprietor) for vending them in America.”

Gunter did not address that altercation directly when he ran advertisements in both the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in September.  Apothecaries and others who sold patent medicines often stated that they obtained their wares “from their original Warehouses,” as Gunter did in his advertisement, but in this instance the advertiser may have intended for that message to resonate with both readers and the printers who published his notice.  Given that Gunter specialized in “DRUGS & MEDICINES” of all sorts, compared to local printers who sold only a few kinds of patent medicines to supplement other revenue streams, he likely did not consider it necessary to make more pointed comments about the authenticity of Keyser’s Pills he imported.  Instead, he allowed his reputation and experience running an apothecary shop justify why prospective customers should acquire that particular remedy from him rather than either of the squabbling printers.

August 16

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

South-Carolina Gazette Extraordinary (August 10, 1772).

“The Public may be assured that THEIRS are the GENUINE.”

When Thomas Powell and Company published a midweek supplement, the South-Carolina Gazette Extraordinary on August 10, 1772, they proclaimed their intention to print both news and advertising as quickly as possible for the “ENTERTAINMENT” and “EMOLUMENT” of the public.  Headers identifying “New Advertisements” appeared on three of the four pages of the supplement.  Powell and Company placed one of their own advertisements immediately below one of those headers.

That advertisement continued a feud with Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, that the rivals pursued in advertisements in their newspapers throughout July.  Powell and Company temporarily ceased participating at the time that Edward Hughes, one of the partners, died on July 30, but launched a new volley a short time later.  Their desire to engage Crouch once again may have played a part in their decision to print a midweek supplement in early August.

The feud did not concern the printing trade or editorial policy.  Instead, Crouch and Powell and Company squabbled over how best to market a patent medicine for venereal disease and which of them carried an authentic remedy.  In a new advertisement in the midweek supplement, Powell and Company declared that they “lately received a Quantity of Dr. KEYSER’S GENUINE PILLS,” echoing the description most recently used by Crouch, “from Mr. James Rivington, Bookseller, in New-York, who is the ONLY Person that is appointed (by the Proprietor) for vending them in America.”  That being the case, Powell and Company implied that Crouch sold counterfeit pills.  “Therefore,” they proclaimed, “as the above T. POWELL, & Co. have always received the Pills sold by them from Mr. Rivington, the Public may be assured that THEIRS are the GENUINE.”

In a nota bene, Powell and Company referred readers to the third newspaper published in Charleston at the time, the South-Carolina and American General Gazette printed by Robert Wells.  “For a surprising Cure performed by the Pills sold by Mr. Rivington,” Powell and Company instructed, “see Mr. WELLS’s Gazette, of August 3, 1772.”  In what capacity did such an account appear in that newspaper?  Was it part of an advertisement?  If so, who placed it?  Was it a puff piece that masqueraded as a news item?  Did it direct readers to purchase the pills from a particular vender?  Did Wells also sell the pills while managing to avoid a confrontation with Powell and Company?  Or did Powell and Company intend for this advertisement to undermine both Crouch and Wells?  Unfortunately, only scattered issues of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette from 1772 survive.  Those issues have not been digitized for greater access.  The combination of those factors prevent exploring what role Wells and his newspaper played in this controversy over marketing and selling patent medicines in Charleston in the summer of 1772.

October 31

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

Oct 31 - 10:31:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 31, 1768).

“The above patent Medicines from the original Warehouses in London, and warranted genuine.”

In the fall of 1768 Thomas Brownjohn advertised “a large Assortment of DRUGS & MEDICINES” available at “his Medicinal Store, in Hanover-Square” in New York. He provided a list of many of the items in his inventory, confident that prospective customers were already familiar with the symptoms each of the remedies supposedly cured. Most goods had not yet been differentiated into brands in the eighteenth century, but patent medicines were an exception. They carried names readily recognized on both sides of the Atlantic, including “Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, Stoughton’s and Squires Grand Elixir, Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Doctor Radcliff’s famous purging Elixir, … Doctor Walkers Jesuit Drops, … [and] Hooper’s Anderson’s, and Locker’s Pills.” The same names appeared in advertisements placed by apothecaries from New England to Georgia.

These nostrums were widely known but not necessarily well regulated. Consumers also knew that counterfeits regularly entered the market. To address the skepticism of potential customers, Brownjohn reported that “The above patent Medicines [came] from the original Warehouses in London.” Furthermore, he pledged that they were “warranted genuine.” Turlington’s Balsam of Life was indeed Turlington’s Balsam of Life. In that case, however, customers did not have to rely solely on Brownjohn’s promises. They could also examine the packaging. John Styles notes that Turlington attempted to ward off counterfeits by rotating through “rectangular, violin and tablet shaped bottles.” In addition, those bottles “were identifiable not simply because of their shapes, but also because almost every surface was heavily embossed with letters of images.” Furthermore, “the bottles were sold with an accompanying printed bill of directions” that “illustrated the current shape of the bottle and listed the embossed information.”[1] Other patent medicine makers also deployed unique packaging in the eighteenth century. Although Brownjohn did not mention any of these additional means of confirming the authenticity of the patent medicines he sold, other retailers sometimes did so. Brownjohn may have considered it unnecessary if consumers possessed widespread familiarity not only with the products but also with the packaging when it came to patent medicines.


[1] John Styles, “Product Innovation in Early Modern London,” Past & Present 168 (August 2000): 153-156.