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