October 11

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

Oct 11 - 10:8:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette.jpg
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 8, 1767).

“The public is referred to a pamphlet of cases, to be had of the vender.”

Nathaniel Tweedy, a druggist, operated a shop “At the Golden Eagle, in Market-street” in Philadelphia. To promote his “fresh assortment of drugs, chemical and galenical medicines, [and] patent and family medicines of all kinds,” he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and other local newspapers in the summer and fall of 1767. In several of them he marketed the “BAUME DE VIE” in particular, listing a broad range of symptoms that it alleviated. According to Tweedy, the Baume de Vie was a cure-all that benefited patients with just about any sort of malady, from “disorders of the stomach and bowels” to “female complaints.”

Tweedy did not consider a brief newspaper advertisement sufficient for relaying the virtues of this particular patent medicine. “For a more ample account of its uses,” he proclaimed, “the public is referred to a pamphlet of cases, to be had of the vender as above.” These “cases” presumably included testimonials from patients who previously benefited from the Baume de Vie. The druggist turned to the advertising pages in the public prints to incite initial interest, but hoped to stoke even more demand by making additional information available in a pamphlet. Rather than purchasing additional space in the newspaper at considerable expense, distributing pamphlets allowed him to target those consumers most interested in his product and most likely to acquire it once they learned more. Furthermore, potential customers might hold onto a pamphlet longer than they kept a newspaper. Tweedy’s marketing efforts resembled those of printers and booksellers who previewed their inventory in newspaper notices but also informed readers that they distributed catalogs at their shops.

Newspapers, catalogs, and pamphlets were all ephemeral, but sometimes catalogs and pamphlets more so than newspapers. As a result, the only evidence of some advertising materials that survives today comes from newspaper advertisements that mention other media, such as Tweedy inviting readers to visit his shop to receive a pamphlet about the Baume de Vie. This also raises questions about Tweedy’s advertising campaign. How many copies of the pamphlet did he distribute? Did he write the copy and have it printed locally? Or did the supplier of the medicines also provide pamphlets for dissemination in local markets? In giving modern readers a more complete glimpse of eighteenth-century advertising media, Tweedy’s newspaper advertisement raises a series of questions about related marketing practices.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (May 11, 1767).

“None but the best of Medicines.”

The mononymous Steuart, “DRUGGIST and APOTHECARY, At the GOLDEN HEAD” on Queen Street in New York, crafted an advertising campaign intended to maximize market penetration. Most advertisers inserted paid notices in only one newspaper, though enterprising entrepreneurs sometimes promoted their goods and services in multiple publications. Rarely did advertisers in New York, however, invest the effort or expense in placing advertisements in all four of the city’s newspapers in a single week in 1767. Steuart, however, advertised in the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury on May 11, as well as in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette: Or, Weekly Post-Boy on May 7. In all except that final publication, he was fortunate that his notice appeared on the front page.

It might be tempting to conclude that a recent relocation made such advertising imperative. The advertisements indicated that he had “removed from between Burling’s and Beekman’s-Slip, to the House lately occupied by Messrs. Walter and Thomas Buchannen, in Queen-Street, (between Hanover-Square and the Fly-Market:).” The move certainly provided one motive for advertising in as many newspapers as possible, but Steuart also competed with McLean and Treat, prolific advertisers who inserted their own notices for their “Medicinal Store, in Hanover-square” in three out of four of New-York’s newspapers that same week. McLean and Treat had also been advertising in multiple newspapers for several weeks before Steuart’s notices appeared. In addition, other apothecaries and shopkeepers who sold medicines took to the public prints to promote their ware that week, including Edward Agar in the New-York Journal and the New-York Mercury; Thomas Bridgen Attwood in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette; and Gerardus Duyckinck in the New-York Gazette: Or, Weekly Post-Boy, the New-York Journal, and the New-York Mercury.

Steuart stated that he “hopes his Friends in Town and Country will still continue to Favour him with their Custom.” He had established a clientele and wanted them to follow him to his new location on Queen Street. While that may have been reason enough to post an advertisement in each of the city’s newspapers, Steuart also realized that he faced competition from several other druggists who advertised aggressively. Getting his share of the market required advertising. Had his notices been intended solely to inform readers of his new location, it would not have been necessary to make appeals to quality – “none but the best of Medicines” – or price – “on as low Terms as possible” – or variety recently arrived from London – “just imported … a fresh and general Assortment.”

February 13

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

feb-13-2131767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 13, 1767).

“His friends and customers may depend on being well served.”

Apothecary James Dick sold “A FRESH sortment of chemical and galenical MEDICINES” imported from London. Like other druggists in the colonies in the 1760s, he assembled “BOXES of MEDICINES, with directions, for plantations and ships.” In providing this service, he likely also moved portions of his inventory that tended to sell more slowly, especially if given the discretion to fabricate these eighteenth-century first aid kits rather than including only items specified by purchasers.

In addition to the ease and convenience of these “BOXES of MEDICINES,” Dick wanted his “friends and customers” to know that he emphasized service in other ways. He made a fairly unique pitch when he concluded his advertisement by noting that “he has now got from London a young gentleman regularly bred, who attends the shop constantly.” Advertisers from a variety of occupations and professions frequently pledged to treat potential customers well, often promising to fulfill their duties with “care” or “dispatch.” When mobilizing such appeals, however, advertisers usually referred to their own demeanor and qualities. Dick, on the other hand, described possible interactions with his employee.

Very few advertisers mentioned employees, perhaps because many ran small operations limited to family members and maybe an apprentice.   Even shopkeepers and artisans who may have had assistants of various sorts deployed advertising in which they retained their role as the public face of the businesses they operated.

By promoting the contributions of his assistant, Dick made at least two appeals to prospective customers, one practical and one aspirational. When he noted that his assistant “attends the shop constantly,” the apothecary let readers know that someone would be available to assist them no matter when they visited. Given that the druggist provided medical services, he may have been called away from the shop on occasion. Rather than close his shop, he made arrangements for an assistant to be present even when he was not.

In addition, when he noted that his assistant not only came from London but was “a young gentleman regularly bred” the apothecary conjured images of a prosperous and genteel shop where customers would be met with courtesy and deference. Given his line of business, Dick rightly assumed that some customers visited his shop when feeling their worst. The image of a “young gentleman regularly bred” serving those customers suggested an atmosphere of pampering and authentic concern rather than a hurried transaction in a busy dispensary. Some retail pharmacies make similar appeals today, emphasizing interactions – even relationships built over time – with pharmacists and other staff.

December 21

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

dec-21-12201766-agar-in-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 20, 1766).

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dec-21-12201766-new-york-jorunal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 20, 1766).

“A fresh and general Assortment of Drugs and Medicines.”

Thomas Bridgen Attwood and Edward Agar both sold patent medicines recently imported from London, but the competitors advanced different strategies for attracting customers in their advertisements. Readers of the December 20, 1766, supplement to the New-York Journal encountered notices from both druggists in the center column on the second page, separated by only three other advertisements.

Like many shopkeepers, Agar provided a partial list of his merchandise, hoping to entice potential customers interested in particular products. Among “numberless other articles in the medicinal way,” Agar carried a dozen patent medicines that he mentioned by name: “DR. James’s fever powders, Hill’s pectoral balsam of honey, … Turlington’s balsam, Greenough’s tincture for the teeth, Lockyer’s pills, Anderson’s [pills]; Dr. Ward’s essence for the head-ach, Bateman’s drops, Stoughton’s bitters, Daffy’s elixir, Godfrey’s cordial; … [and] Dr. Ryan’s sugar plumbs for worms.” Colonists would have recognized each of these, just as modern consumers associate particular brands with specific symptoms and remedies.

Attwood depended on that familiarity, refraining from inserting any sort of list. Instead, in a separate paragraph (headed with a manicule to draw attention to it), he promised “The most approved patented Medicines, warranted genuine, from the Original Warehouses.” His advertisement appeared just below Agar’s, making any sort of list unnecessary since his competitor already named many of the most popular eighteenth-century patent medicines. However, even without such fortuitous placement of the two notices, Attwood could have depended on potential customers’ ability to identify a variety of medicines and makers on their own. He chose instead to focus on the services that he provided, including compounding new prescriptions and filling “Country Orders” from those who contacted him by letter rather than visiting his shop.

In general, Agar emphasized selection while Attwood accentuated service. The druggists found common ground when they each promised low prices, one of the most common appeals made to consumers in eighteenth-century advertising. Attwood, more economical in his use of words, pledged to “Sell at the very lowest prices, wholesale and retale.” Agar, the more verbose of the two, stoutly proclaimed that he sold imported patent medicines “on the lowest terms they can possibly be afforded by any one in America.” Which swayed potential customers? Agar’s extravagant assertions about his prices? Or Attwood’s variety of consumer-centered services?

October 27

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

oct-27-10271766-boston-gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 27, 1766).

“DRUGS and Medicines of the very best Kinds.”

This advertisement caught my attention because it is unique. In reading colonial newspapers I have not seen many advertisements for medical supplies. This one includes “Syringes of all kinds” and “Bateman’s Drops,” among other things.

The advertisement made me wonder about the realities of health in the 1700s. Colonists tried to do what we still strive for now, to live a healthy life. However, that was much more difficult to do in the 1700s. Fewer medical discoveries, poor hygiene practices, and contamination of water sources contributed to an unfavorable health environment. In eighteenth-century America a mild illness could turn into a fatal ailment. Diseases, like yellow fever, were always a threat and could cause epidemics.

One example of a disease causing havoc happened in Philadelphia in the late 1700s. As Simon Finger notes, “At the end of the eighteenth century, Philadelphia found itself in the grip of an implacable horror, wracked by ‘the hurricane of the human frame.’ Yellow fever loomed like the storm.”[1] The spread of illnesses wreaked havoc on the population. Not only were residents dying from illnesses, but the economy was also affected. Finger further states that: “yellow fever returned to terrorize Philadelphia six more times, taking thousands of lives, paralyzing the port economy, and sowing the seeds of a panic.”[2]

Americans now have access to properly educated doctors, hygiene education, and clean water sources. In 2016, not many people are worried about a lethal cough or a yellow fever epidemic occurring. However, it is important to recognize the unhealthy environment colonists lived in and the health threats they faced, as it was one of the characteristics of the 1700s.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Peter Roberts offered a variety of conveniences for customers who purchased his “DRUGS and Medicines of the very best Kinds.” Like many other druggists (as well as some shopkeepers), he provided mail order service for those who were unable to visit his shop “opposite the West Door of the Court-House Boston.” In a nota bene he announced that “Orders by Letters from Practitioners and others, in Town or Country, will be as faithfully complied with as if they were present.”

Roberts offered another convenience less commonly promoted in eighteenth-century advertisements. Before listing the various remedies and medical equipment he stocked, the druggist stated that he “carefully prepares and puts up in the best Manner, DOCTOR’s BOXES of all sizes, with proper Directions, for Ships or private Families.” In other words, Roberts produced and sold the early modern equivalent of the first aid kit. Given that customers could choose boxes of “all sizes,” Roberts most likely allowed them to choose specific items they wished included. On the other hand, some customers probably preferred readymade boxes that included the most popular and commonly used items, leaving it to the druggist to make the selections based on his experience and expertise.

While these “DOCTOR’s BOXES” represented a convenience for his customers, they presented an opportunity for Roberts, an opportunity to increase sales and move inventory more quickly. Customers purchased individual items from Roberts and other druggists as they needed them or in anticipation of need. When Roberts assembled one these boxes, however, he could include various products that customers were less likely to select on their own or that they were less likely to imagine that they might need at some point. He could include items that customers were much less likely to purchase separately but that they would accept as part of a larger package. He bundled his products in order to distribute them in greater numbers.

Note that Roberts also sold “DOCTOR’s BOXES” for vessels going to sea as well as to “private Families.” He recognized that the local market was comprised of more than the “Practitioners” who lived in Boston and its hinterland. The city was a busy port. Potential customers were arriving and departing by ship all the time. When they were in port, they needed a variety of supplies, including the “DRUGS and Medicines” that Roberts sold.

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[1] Simon Finger, The Contagious City: The Politics of Public Health in Early Philadelphia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 120.

[2] Finger, Contagious City, 120.