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.

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.

July 12

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

Jul 12 - 7:12:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 12, 1769).

“Boxes of medicines prepared for the use of plantations and shipping.”

Lewis Johnson peddled an “Assortment of MEDICINES” at his shop in Savannah. He carried familiar patent medicines, such as Daffy’s elixir, Bateman’s drops, Stoughton’s bitters, Godfrey’s cordial, Turlington’s balsam, Anderson’s pills, and a “compleat assortment of Dr. Hill’s medicines.” His inventory of patent medicines rivaled what customers could expect to find in apothecary shops in larger cities on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to those remedies, Johnson carried a variety of supplies for compounding other remedies according to the wishes of the customer or the instructions of a doctor or healer. He also stocked medical equipment, such as lancets, vials, mortars, and weights and scales.

To facilitate sales, Johnson concluded his advertisement with a service available to patrons: “Boxes of medicines prepared for the use of plantations and shipping.” In other words, Johnson produced the eighteenth-century equivalent of the modern first aid kit. He identified prospective customers likely to have particular need of a several medicines for treating a variety of ailments packaged in advance. Johnson’s boxes saved plantation owners and overseers located some distance from Savannah the trouble of sending for remedies every time they had need. For vessels at sea, having a supply of medicines on hand was imperative since they could be weeks from port and unable to acquire new supplies in the meantime. This method also allowed Johnson to boost his sales by bundling together items based on possible need at some future moment rather than certain need at the time of purchase.

For some customers, these “Boxes of medicines” were practically a necessity; for others they were a convenience. In both cases, Johnson did more than merely sell goods to consumers. He offered a service that enhanced the value of his wares. That service required him to contribute his own knowledge of medicines and their effects in selecting or recommending items to include in the boxes. Beyond the medicines and other supplies, Johnson’s expertise was an important component of the boxes he prepared for customers.