December 19

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 19, 1770).

“ALL Persons indebted to CARNE & WILSON, are requested to discharge their respective Debts.”

Apothecaries Carne and Wilson advertised widely when they dissolved their partnership in the fall of 1770, calling on clients to “discharge their respective Debts” or else face the consequences.  They threatened that those who disregarded their notices would “have to settle with a Gentleman of the Law.”  They also expressed some exasperation, stating that they had inserted advertisement “in the several Gazettes” published in Charleston so none of their customers “may plead ignorance.”  Such notices were common in South Carolina and throughout the colonies.

Neither Carne nor Wilson retired, moved to another town, or ceased working as apothecaries when their partnership came to an end.  Instead, they each pursued other opportunities.  Wilson ran his own shop, while Carne embarked on a new partnership.  Both ran advertisements for their new endeavors, notices that overlapped with their advertisements instructing former customers to settle accounts.  In the December 19, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, for instance, a single column on the front page included advertisements representing all three enterprises.  Wilson’s advertisement for a “LARGE and compleat ASSORTMENT of DRUGS, CHEMICAL, GALENICAL, and FAMILY MEDICINES” appeared at the top of the column, followed immediately by Carne and Poinsett’s advertisement for a “Large Parcel of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”  Even though they were now competitors rather than partners, the proximity of their advertisements kept their names associated with each other.  Several other advertisements appeared in that column, with Carne and Wilson’s notice for customers to discharge their debts at the bottom.
The public prints featured reverberations of Carne and Wilson’s former partnership even as they launched and promoted new ventures.  The success of those new ventures may have depended in part on closing the books on the partnership, hence their stern warning that recalcitrant customers might have to deal with an attorney “as no longer indulgence can possibly be given, there being an absolute necessity for having every thing relative to that concern closed.”  Colonial entrepreneurs placed advertisements throughout the various stages of operating their businesses, announcing that they would soon open, promoting goods and services available at their shops, and informing the public when they closed.  The three advertisements that Carne and Wilson placed simultaneously in the South-Carolina and American General Gazetteencapsulated this cycle, telling a more complete story about their commercial activities.

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.