September 8

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

Sep 8 - 9:8:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (September 8, 1768).
“WHEREAS many Persons are so unfortunate as to lose their fore Teeth … they may have them replaced with false Ones … by PAUL REVERE.”

Although Paul Revere is primarily remembered as an engraver and silversmith who actively supported the Patriot cause throughout the era of the American Revolution, newspaper advertisements from the period demonstrate that he also tried his hand at dentistry. As summer turned to fall in 1768, Revere placed advertisements in both the Boston Evening-Post and Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette to encourage prospective clients to hire him if they needed false teeth made or adjusted.

Like many others who marketed consumer goods and services in the public prints, Revere stoked anxieties as a means of convincing readers to avail themselves of his services. He proclaimed that “many Persons are so unfortunate as to lose their fore Teeth … to their Detriment, not only in looks, but speaking both in Public and Private.” Revere raised the insecurities that prospective clients likely already felt, but then presented a solution. Colonists who had lost their front teeth “may have them replaced with false Ones, that looks as well as the Natural, and answers the End of Speaking to all intents.” He assured prospective clients that they would no longer need to worry about their appearance or speech once they sought his assistance.

Revere also attempted to generate business from among the clientele of John Baker, an itinerant “Surgeon-Dentist” who had provided his services in Boston before moving along to Newport and New York and other cities. Baker was well known to the residents of Boston and its environs. In an advertisement in the New-York Journal he claimed to have provided his services to “upwards of two thousand persons in the town of Boston.” Even if that was an inflated estimate, it still indicated that Baker had served a significant number of clients there. Revere confirmed that was the case when he used a portion of his advertisement to address those clients. He claimed that he had “learnt the Method of fixing” false teeth that had come loose from Baker during the surgeon-dentist’s time in Boston.

Thanks to the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere is most famous for his “midnight ride” on the eve of the battles at Lexington and Concord. He also encouraged resistance to the British through his engravings, including “The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street, Boston.” In addition, Revere is remembered as an artisan who crafted fashionable silver teapots, buckles, and other items. This advertisement shows another facet of Revere’s attempts to earn his livelihood in Boston in the late colonial period, dabbling in dentistry as an extension of practicing his trade as a silversmith.

April 30

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

Apr 30 - 4:30:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 30, 1768).

“Each pot is sealed with his coat of arms, as in the margin of the directions, to prevent fraud.”

For quite some time John Baker, “SURGEON DENTIST,” had advertised his services to the better sorts and others and other residents of Boston in the newspapers published there, but in the spring of 1768 he migrated to New York and informed “the gentry” that “he will wait on receiving their commands.” He announced that he “cures the scurvy in the gums” and “makes artificial teeth,” just a few of the many aspects of dental hygiene and health he addressed in the lengthy notice he inserted in the New-York Journal.

In addition to those various services, the itinerant surgeon dentist also hawked a product that readers could purchase with or without undergoing any of the procedures he performed. A manicule drew attention to Baker’s “Dentrific … for preserving the teeth and gums.” Here Baker used an alternate spelling for “dentifrice,” a precursor to toothpaste described by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a powder or other preparation for rubbing or cleansing the teeth.” Baker provided “proper directions,” presumably a printed sheet or pamphlet, with each purchase.

He also realized the potential for counterfeits to circulate in a marketplace with little regulation of medicines. To that end, the inserted a nota bene to announce that “Each pot is sealed with his coat of arms, as in the margin of the directions, to prevent fraud.” Whether Baker actually anticipated spurious dentifrices attributed to him, this proclamation enhanced his marketing efforts. It implied that his dentifrice was so effective that others would indeed attempt to peddle substitutes that they passed off as authentic. It also allowed him to assert that he possessed his own coat of arms, which now doubled as a trademark to readily identify his product. Earlier in the advertisement he declared that he had provided his services “to the principal nobility, gentry, and others of Great-Britain, France, Ireland, and other principal Places in Europe.” Invoking his own coat of arms accentuated that claim, suggesting that his treatments were so effective that clients of means and influence had obtained his services and been satisfied with the results. As a newcomer to New York, Baker could not rely on a reputation built over time through extended interactions with local residents as a means of attracting new patients. Instead, he used his dentifrice, his coat of arms, and his own reports concerning his previous clients to achieve recognition and encourage prospective patients to engage his services in a new city.

July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (July 21, 1766).

“James Daniel, Wig-Maker and Hair-Dresser … Also Operator for the Teeth.”

This advertisement first caught my attention because of the odd combination of occupations that James Daniel pursued. Not only was he a “Wig-Maker and Hair-Dresser,” he also marketed himself as an “Operator for the Teeth.” Today we would be very suspicious of anybody who included both in a single advertisement.

Though these occupations involved very different skills and responsibilities, they both emphasized the importance of personal appearance. As regular readers are aware, eighteenth-century newspapers overflowed with advertisements for imported textiles and accouterments for making clothing. These goods were often described as stylish or corresponding to the latest fashions in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Tailors and seamstresses also marketed their services by promising that they were cognizant of the latest fashions. As colonists consciously constructed outward appearances intended to testify to their character, demonstrate their affluence, and mark them as refined, they needed to take their hair, as well as their clothes, into account. Note that Daniel stated that he did wigs and hair “in the genteelest Manner,” indicating that his work communicated fashion, status, and good graces. Colonists also needed to care for their teeth, including “Scurvy in the Gums” that made them an unattractive white and sometimes loosened them or caused them to fall out, as they focused on images they presented to others.

Another of Daniel’s appeals suggests that the distance between colonial New York and London may not have been all that wide, not even in the eighteenth century. In offering his credentials as an “Operator for the Teeth,” he noted that he had “practised these Operations in London, under Marsh, the Surgeon Dantist, a Man so eminent in this Profession.” Daniel expected colonists in New York to be familiar with the “eminent” Marsh from London, whose reputation was supposed to augment Daniel’s own training, expertise, and experience. Marsh may have achieved transatlantic fame as a surgeon dentist as letters, newspapers, and people crossed the ocean in the 1760s. Alternately, even if Marsh was not a celebrity of sorts, Daniel may have assumed that prospective clients would not admit they were not familiar with his career. After all, such ignorance would reflect on them. Whether Marsh was famous or not, Daniel relied on colonists claiming to know of “the Surgeon Dantist, a Man so eminent in this Profession.”