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.