What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Dr. KEYSER’S GENUINE PILLS.”
Like many colonial printers, Charles Crouch and Powell, Hughes, and Company advertised and sold patent medicines, including Dr. Keyser’s pills for venereal disease, at their printing offices in Charleston. In the summer of 1772, that prompted a feud between those printers. It began when Powell, Hughes, and Company ran a lengthy advertisement in their newspaper, the South-Carolina Gazette, providing a history of the medicine and its effectiveness. In the next issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Crouch ran his own advertisement, but considered it “needless to trouble the public with more Encomiums on the Effects of this Remedy” in the public prints. Instead, he offered “A NARRATIVE of the Effects of Dr. KEYSER’s MEDICINE, with an Account of its ANALYSIS, by the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences,” that colonizers could examine at his printing office. Powell, Hughes, and Company made clear in a new advertisement in the next issue of the South-Carolina Gazette that they took issue with Crouch seeming to critique their marketing efforts. That led to a series of advertisements that descended into the printers accusing each other of carrying counterfeit medicines and making attacks on each other’s character. Powell, Hughes, and Company even reprinted one of Crouch’s advertisements, for the purposes of insinuating that their rival suffered from venereal disease himself, in the July 30 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.
Crouch chose not to escalate the war of words at that point. In his most recent advertisement, he proclaimed that “as to my good or bad Qualities, they are submitted to Candour and Impartiality of the respectable Public, whose Favours I shall always make my chief Study to merit.” That did not stop him from placing another advertisement for the patent medicine at the center of the controversy. In the August 4 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he inserted a short advertisement that alerted prospective customers that “A Fresh Parcel of Dr. KEYSER’s real famous PILLS, are to be had, with full Directions for their Use in all Cases, at CHARLES CROUCH’S Printing Office in Elliott-street.” He also reminded readers that they could peruse “a Narrative of the Effects of KEYSER’S Medicine, with an Account of its Analysis, by the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences.” Crouch suggested the pills he sold were authentic when he described them as “real.” Edward Hughes died on July 30, so the newly-constituted Thomas Powell and Company may have been too occupied with other matters to take notice. Two days later, they ran a two-line advertisement that simply stated, “Keyser’s PILLS and Maredant’s DROPS, may be had at the Printing-Office near the exchange.” Crouch opted to advertise once again, inserting a variation of his most recent notice as one of only six that appeared in a supplement published on August 7. He revised the description from “A Fresh Parcel of Dr. KEYSER’s real famous PILLS” to “A Fresh Parcel of Dr. KEYSER’S GENUINE PILLS,” perhaps intending to defend his own merchandise and cast doubt on the pills stocked by a competitor without calling enough attention to his efforts to incite a response from Powell, Hughes, and Company. Of all the advertisements he could have chosen to include in the limited space in the midweek supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette, Crouch consciously chose to promote the patent medicines available at his printing office, likely hoping to build on any attention generated by the recent dispute.
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Vide the case of Flackfield published in this paper the 29th June, and 6th of July instant.”
When they feuded over selling “Dr. KEYSER’S famous PILLS” for venereal disease in the summer of 1772, Charles Crouch and Powell, Hughes, and Company ran advertisements that referenced notices by their competitor. In the July 30 edition of their South-Carolina Gazette, Powell, Hughes, and Company even reprinted Crouch’s most recent advertisement “From the South-Carolina GAZETTE, AND Country Journal, of July 28, 1772. [No. 348.]”
Hundreds of miles to the north, another purveyor of “KEYSER’s famous PILLS” placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy that directed readers to a notice he placed weeks earlier. On July 20, Michaell B. Goldthwait ran a notice in which he asserted that doctors who prescribed the pills and observed the results “have produced the following testimonies which is written under Dr. Hammond Beaumount’s original certificate of the case* of Thomas Flackfield, a soldier in the 26th Reg’t, an event that astonished all the officers of that corps, and all the inhabitants of New-York.” The asterisk directed readers to a note at the end of the advertisement: “Vide the case of Flackfield published in this paper the 29th June, and 6th of July instant.” Goldthwait cited his own lengthy advertisement for “Dr. Keyser’s celebrated PILLS” that overflowed from one column into another. Much of that earlier notice consisted of a narrative of “The Case of Thomas Flackfield,” signed by “H. BEAUMONT, Surgeon to his Majesty’s twenty sixth, or Cameronian Regiment,” and dated “New-York, May 10, 1772.”
On July 27, that original advertisement ran once again, but on August 3 Goldthwait once again published the newer notice that cited the earlier one. It featured two new testimonials, including “The Opinion of Dr. JOHN KEARSLEY, of Philadelphia, published now with his knowledge and consent,” and an “Extract of a Letter from a Doctor of Physick in a City to the Southward of Philadelphia.” Although this new advertisement likely provided sufficient information to entice doctors and patients hoping to cure “the French disorder” as well as “the several diseases specified in the printed direction,” Goldthwait asked prospective customers to consider other notices from his marketing campaign. He also expected that readers had fairly easy access to previous issues of the weekly Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. Subscribers sometimes held onto issues for some time before discarding them. Coffeehouses also maintained libraries of recent newspapers, allowing patrons to peruse them for items they missed.
Whether part of a feud between rival printers who peddled patent medicines in South Carolina or a marketing campaign devised by an apothecary in Massachusetts, advertisements for Keyser’s pills were not always standalone entries in the entries in which they appeared. Instead, the advertisers expected that readers had seen other advertisements and even provided citations for them to find additional advertisements they referenced as they told a more complete story about the products they sold.
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WHO … can doubt of the amazing Effects of that powerful and invaluable Medicine?”
A feud between Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, and Powell, Hughes, and Company, printers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, played out in the pages of their newspapers in the summer of 1772. This feud did not concern their work as printers, nor did it appear in editorials. Instead, they sniped at each other in advertisements hawking a popular patent medicine, “Dr. KEYSER’S famous PILLS.”
According to advertisements that frequently appeared in newspapers from New England to South Carolina, colonial printers often supplemented their revenues from newspaper subscriptions, advertising, job printing, books, and stationery by selling patent medicines. Doing so required no specialized knowledge of the cures. The printers merely needed to supply the directions that often accompanied the nostrums they peddled. In addition, many consumers were already familiar with the most popular patent medicines, the eighteenth-century equivalent of over-the-counter medications.
Powell, Hughes, and Company ran a lengthy advertisement for “Dr. Keyser’s GENUINE Pills” in the July 9 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. They opened by stating that “numerous Trials have proved [the pills] to be the safest, best, mildest, and most agreeable Medicine ever discovered, for the Cure of the VENEREAL DISEASE, from the slightest Infection to the most inveterate State of that dreadful and almost unconquerable Disorder.” They provided a long history of the medicine and its efficacy, concluding with a guarantee “to return the Money, if a complete Cure is not performed, provided the Patient adheres to the Manner of taking [the pills], as is given in the printed Directions.”
In the next issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, distributed on July 14, Crouch positioned his own extensive advertisement for “A CONSIGNMENT” of patent medicines on the front page. The list of medicines began with “A FRESH PARCEL of Dr. KEYSER’s FAMOUS PILLS, With FULL DIRECTIONS for their Use in all CASES.” Rather than publish the history of that medicine in his advertisement, Crouch alerted readers that they could read “A NARRATIVE of the Effects of Dr. KESYER’s MEDICINE, with an Account of its ANALYSIS, by the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences.” He further elaborated, “It were needless to trouble the public with more Encomiums on the Effects of this Remedy.”
That statement, as well as competition for customers, raised the ire of Powell, Hughes, and Company. Two days later, they updated their previous advertisement, inserting an introductory paragraph that directly addressed Crouch’s advertisement. The partners, “far from thinking ‘it NEEDLESS to trouble the Public with more Encomiums of the Effects of this Remedy,’ look upon it as their Duty to insert the following Particulars of Keyser’s invaluable Medicine, in order that the Afflicted in this Province, may, in some Respects be made acquainted with the Virtues of the most efficacious Medicine ever discovered, and know where to apply for Relief, without the Danger of having other Pills imposed on them instead the GENUINE.” Powell, Hughes, and Company implied that Crouch carried counterfeit pills before inserting their original advertisement in its entirety.
Crouch objected to that insinuation. In the July 21 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he added a short note to his previous advertisement. Crouch now stated that he carried “A FRESH PARCEL of Dr. KEYSER’s FAMOUS PILLS, (perhaps the only REAL ONES that can be had in the Province at present) With FULL DIRECTIONS for their Use in all CASES.” He turned the accusation back to Powell, Hughes, and Company, suggesting that it was they, not he, who attempted to dupe the public with counterfeit and ineffective medicines.
That prompted Powell, Hughes, and Company to double down on their insistence that Crouch peddled counterfeits. On July 23, they expanded the new introduction of their advertisement, reiterating the “NEEDLESS to trouble the Public” quotation and adding a note about “the Danger of having a spurious Sort imposed on them, notwithstanding any forcible ‘PERHAPS’ to the Contrary.” Furthermore, they “assured” prospective customers that the pills they carried “were received from Mr. Keyser, therefore there can be no ‘Perhaps’ entertained of THEIR not being the GENUINE, unless it is by such who are naturally Obstinate and Conceited, without one good Quality to entitle them to be either.”
The back-and-forth continued in the next edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Crouch and his competitors carefully monitored what each said about the other in their new advertisements. Crouch placed “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” on the first page of the July 28 edition, leading with a new advertisement for “Dr. KEYSER’s famous PILLS” limited to a single paragraph that focused primarily on the controversy that had been brewing for the past few weeks. He once again stated that he sold the pills and declared that “he really believes (without forcible making Use of the Word “PERHAPS”) they are the only REAL ONES that can be had in the Province at present.” For the first time, he named his competitors, noting that “it is asserted (with a Degree of Scurrility) to the Contrary, in the latter Part of the Introduction to an Advertisement for the Sale of Keyser’s Pills, by Powell, Hughes, & Co. in a Gazette of the 23d Instant, said to be printed by these People.
Crouch devoted the remainder of his advertisement to upbraiding his competitors and defending his reputation. “In regard to the mean, rascally Insinuations against men, contained in said Introduction,” the printer stated, “I am happy in knowing that they do not, nor cannot in the least AFFECT me, especially as coming from such Hands.” He then suggested, “I think it would have been much more to their Credit, to have endeavoured to convince the Public, in a Manner different from what they did, that my Surmise was wrong, respecting the Pills sold by them.” He concluded with an assertion that “as to my good or bad Qualities, they are submitted to Candour and Impartiality of the respectable Public, whose Favours I shall always make my chief Study to merit; without fearing the Malice or Baseness of any Individual.”
Powell, Hughes, and Company did not interpret that as an overture to make peace or change their tone. On July 30, they began with the “New Advertisements” in the South-Carolina Gazette by reprinting Crouch’s advertisement “From the South-Carolina GAZETTE, AND Country Journal, of July 28, 1772. [No. 348.]” in its entirety. They made sure that readers could examine the original, though they also added “(t b c t f.)” to the final line, a notation that signaled to the compositor to continue inserting the advertisement until instructed to remove it. In so doing, they implied that Crouch intended to publicly shame them indefinitely. Yet they felt no remorse. Instead, they implied that Crouch suffered from the effects of venereal disease himself, especially cognitive deterioration, composing his latest advertisement only after taking a pill he acquired from Powell, Hughes, and Company. “WHO,” they asked, “after perusing the foregoing masterly Piece, produced by a SINGLE Dose of Dr. Keyser’s GENUINE Pills, sold by POWELL, HUSGHES, & Co. … can doubt of the amazing Effects of that powerful and invaluable Medicine?” They further intimated that Crouch suffered from venereal disease by asking, “After so copious a Discharge by ONE Dose, what may not be expected from a SECOND, or should THAT Patient take a WHOLE BOX?” Powell, Hughes, and Company snidely asserted that Crouch’s mental faculties were so far gone due to venereal disease that a single dose managed to give him only a few moments of clarity but he needed much more medicine to cease ranting and raving.
Powell, Hughes, and Company compounded the insult in a short paragraph that commented on Crouch’s grammar, further imputing that the effects of venereal disease made it difficult for him to string together coherent sentences. “In the mean Time,” they proclaimed, “the Reader is desired to correct TWO egregious Blunder, by inserting FORCIBLY for forcible, and THOSE PEOPLE instead of these People. The Word RASCALLY may stand, as ONE distinguishing Mark of the happy Talents and Abilities of the ingenious Author, as a —.” Pettiness descended into other insults unfit to print in the newspaper.
These exchanges demonstrate that Crouch and Powell, Hughes, and Company did not peruse each other’s publications solely in search of news items to reprint in their own. They also paid attention to advertisements, especially when their competitors marketed ancillary goods, like patent medicines, to supplement their revenues. These printers found themselves in competition to sell “Dr. KEYSER’S famous PILLS.” Rather than pursue their own marketing efforts, they chose to take umbrage at the strategies deployed by the other. Many purveyors of patent medicines stated in their advertisements that they did not need to offer additional information because the public was already so familiar with the product. Crouch may or may not have intended such an observation as a critique of Powell, Hughes, and Company’s advertisement. Whatever his intention, that was enough to garner a response that further escalated into a feud between rival printers hawking patent medicines.