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.

January 6

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

jan-6-161767-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal-page-3
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 6, 1767).

“A Bill of – PHIPPARD, Clock and Watch-Maker, at POOL, inclosed in the Case.”

An unnamed advertiser alerted readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that his “gilt Metal WATCH” had recently been stolen. The victim of the theft offered a two dollar reward (and “no Questions asked”) to anyone who delivered the watch to the printer. In addition, he offered a more significant reward “on Conviction of the Offender.”

In addition to demonstrating one means that consumer goods circulated in eighteenth-century America, this notice also reveals another form of marketing. To help readers identify the stolen watch, the advertiser noted that a “Bill” for “PHIPPARD, Clock and Watch-Maker, at POOL” was “inclosed in the Case.” Like other artisans, watchmakers sometimes marked their work with printed items. Cabinetmakers affixed paper labels, which often resembled trade cards, to furniture produced in their shops. Bookbinders pasted labels inside the covers of books they bound. Smiths packaged buckles and other adornments in boxes that had labels reminding customers who had crafted the items and where similar items were sold. Watchmakers also inserted watch papers to protect the glass faces of the watches they made.

From the description in the advertisements, it appears that the watchmaker, Phippard, did not necessarily include a watch paper (or, if he had, it had been misplaced or discarded), but instead resorted to some sort of label or small billhead intended to be stored with the commodity and its packaging. As a result, Phippard created an advertisement that his customer encountered regularly, long after the initial purchase had been completed. This operated as an eighteenth-century precursor to more intentional efforts to brand merchandise. Clock- and watchmakers made other efforts to permanently mark – or brand – their work, often engraving their names directly onto the items they created. Another advertisement in the same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal indicated that readers could identify a lost watch by looking for the “Makers Name J. FINCIM” on the watch itself.

Eighteenth-century artisans marked their work out of pride, but they also did so as a means of establishing and maintaining their reputation for quality work and promoting further sales.

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:19:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (June 19, 1766).

“EDWARD BROADFIELD has carried on the manufacture of STURGEON for fourteen years, and given a general satisfaction.”

Edward Broadfield told a dramatic tale of commercial rivalry, sabotage, subterfuge, and woe in his advertisement for pickled sturgeon from the June 19, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Journal.

He started by noting his qualifications and the quality of his product. He had “carried on the manufacture of STURGEON for fourteen years.” The pickled sturgeon he produced was as good as any imported from the Baltic, so good that the “honourable society of arts, manufactures and commerce” had presented him an award, including a cash prize, for the “best Sturgeon cured in America.”

The previous year some misfortunes forced Broadfield to take on a partner, who remained unnamed throughout the advertisement. The partner, in turn, attempted to force Broadfield out of his own business. The partner refused to send the necessary supplies to continue the business. Broadfield found himself in such a predicament, unable to pay his debts, that he left town in order to procure the necessary supplies on his own, leaving his wife to oversee his affairs while he was away.

In Broadfield’s absence, the partner sent “a French Indian and his wife, to supplant my wife.” Furthermore, he spread false rumors about Broadfield and attempted to bribe his wife to leave town. She did “quit the place,” but never received the promised payment for doing so.

This was all bad enough, but Broadfield’s reputation was further at stake. His wife left behind several kegs “branded with my brand” which the Indian and his wife then filled with their own pickled sturgeon. They sold and shipped it as though they were in partnership with Broadfield. His advertisement warned unsuspecting consumers about this trickery.

Broadfield announced that he continued business at Kensington, not at Lamberton where he had formerly pursued his craft. In most circumstances, a brand alone testified to the quality of the product in the kegs, but Broadfield needed customers to know that only pickled sturgeon that came from him directly in Kensington actually had his seal of approval. In addition, he listed one additional authorized seller in Philadelphia, “Mr. Jeremiah Baker, near the Crooked Billet, in Water-street.” Broadfield concluded by stressing that his fish was sold “by no other persons.”

Broadfield told quite a story in his advertisement. He attempted to leverage a frustrating, infuriating, and embarrassing series of events to rehabilitate his damaged reputation, warn others against the perfidy of his former partner, and attract customers for his own product. In the process of promoting his own pickled sturgeon, he aired a lot of dirty laundry. Perhaps a combination of sympathy and indignation resonated with customers.

May 1

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

May 1 - 5:1:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 1, 1766).

“It will be stamped on the cork with black letters.”

This advertisement caught my eye for two reasons. When he informed potential customers that his “BOTTLED BEER … will be stamped on the cork with black letters,” Timothy Matlack branded his product. He made it easy to distinguish his beer from any competitors at a glance. He also created a mechanism for his product to be recognized or identified long after it left his store on Fourth Street and found its way into public and private spaces in and around Philadelphia. Branding is an important element of modern advertising, a core component of a product’s and a business’s identity, but it is not an invention of modern advertising executives. Some eighteenth-century entrepreneurs experimented with various ways to mark and identify their wares.

This advertisement also caught my eye because of the advertiser himself, Timothy Matlack. Many of the advertisers featured here are fairly anonymous today, having left behind very few documents from their lives. Others played fairly prominent roles in their communities during their lifetimes, leaving sufficient documentation to be traced, to greater or lesser degrees, by historians.

May 1 - Timothy Matlack
Timothy Matlack (Charles Willson Peale, ca. 1790).  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Timothy Matlack, however, was a man of prominence in eighteenth-century America. At least one biographer has chronicled his life as a brewer and politician during the American Revolution. Though he is not as famous today as Samuel Adams, another brewer and popular revolutionary leader, Matlack has entered popular culture as the answer to one of the riddles in the film National Treasure.   While much of the history is that movie is more than suspect, Matlack did indeed engross (write the official copy of) THE Declaration of Independence. His master penmanship lives on, not only in the Declaration of Independence but also in several modern typefaces inspired or influenced by his handwriting.