October 17

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 17, 1772).

“It is needless to mention a long list of peoples’ names … [and] what great benefit they have received by the proper use of this Balsam.”

Advertisements for patent medicines frequently appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies.  The Pennsylvania Chronicle carried them, including a notice promoting “Dr. HILL’s American Balsam” on October 17, 1772.  William Young provided a brief and enthusiastic overview of the remedy’s effectiveness, boldly proclaiming that “IT is known, by experiment, that this Balsam is one of the most excellent medicines ever before prepared since the creation of the world, for colds, coughs, consumptions, swimming in the head, rheumatism, pain, gravel, sore throat,” and many other ailments.

Young indicated that he could have produced testimonials, but he considered doing so unnecessary given the reputation of Dr. Hill’s American Balsam.  He reported that “great numbers of people in this and the neighbouring provinces” who had “made trial” of the medicine could confirm its efficacy, yet be believed it “needless to mention a long list of peoples’ names and their residences, who have earnestly desired it might be published for the good of their fellow-creatures.”  Instead, Young underscored “what great benefit they have received by the proper use of this Balsam, when all other medicines have been used in vain.”

That strategy differed from the one deployed by Nicholas Brooks in promoting Maredant’s Drops in the Pennsylvania Gazette earlier in the year.  Brooks published the names of several people “cured by Maredant’s drops” as well as detailed testimonials written by two satisfied customers.  In contrast, Young suggested that there were so many customers whose symptoms had been alleviated by Dr. Hill’s American Balsam that listing their names would have been superfluous.  Whether or not he could have published such a list seemed less important to him than asserting how many people supposedly encouraged him to do so.  That left it prospective customers to imagine for themselves how many patients benefited from the medicine.  In choosing not to publish any specifics, neither names nor testimonials, Young invited readers to envision even grander stories about the effectiveness of Dr. Hill’s American Balsam than he could have compiled in a newspaper advertisement.

May 17

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

Pennsylvania Packet (May 14, 1772).

“Enquire only for Dr Hill’s American Balsam.”

Advertisements for patent medicines frequently appeared in early American newspapers.  In the spring of 1772, William Young took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Journal to promote “Dr. HILL’s AMERICAN BALSAM, LATELY imported from London.”  For those unfamiliar with this remedy, Young explained that “Experience has fully testified, that by the proper use of this excellent medicine, great numbers of people in America have been relieved in the consumption, gravel [or kidney stones] and rheumatic pains.”  In addition, it helped with colds, coughs, and “swimmings in the head.”

Many consumers may have been more familiar with popular patent medicines commonly sold by apothecaries, merchants, shopkeepers, and even printers and booksellers.  Newspaper advertisements suggest that colonizers could easily acquire Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, Hooper’s Pills, Turlington’s Balsam, and a variety of other patent medicines in shops from New England to Georgia.  Hill’s American Balsam, in contrast, was not as readily available.  Instead, a small number of sellers in the colonies exclusively handled the distribution, including merchants in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Wilmington, North Carolina; shopkeepers in New York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania; a printer in Germantown, Pennsylvania; and a goldsmith in Wilmington, Delaware.  Young proclaimed that consumers would find this patent medicine “no where else.”

Such exclusivity had the potential to lead to confusion or even counterfeits.  In a nota bene, Young warned that “People, in buying this so highly esteemed medicine, should be careful not to get a wrong one and be deceived.”  To prevent that from happening, he gave instructions “to enquire only for Dr. Hill’s American Balsam.”  Consumers could confirm that they obtained the correct product by looking for Hill’s “direction wraped about each bottle.”  Printed materials played an important role in marketing this patent medicine, via the advertisements that appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal and via the ancillary materials that accompanied each bottle of Dr. Hill’s American Balsam.