August 21

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 19, 1771).

“He hath to sell also, his Royal Balsam, which is made of American produce.”

Two advertisements for patent medicines appeared among the notices in the August 21, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  In an extensive advertisement that filled an entire column and overflowed into another, William Young promoted “Dr. HILL’S AMERICAN BALSAM.”  Further down that second column, George Weed hawked his own “Royal Balsam” as well as several other nostrums that he compounded to cure “the bloody flux,” coughs, and other maladies.  Weed’s advertisement was much shorter, but the apothecary indicated that he had the capacity to publish a notice just as lengthy as the one inserted by Young.  “He hath by him,” Weed proclaimed, “a considerable number of certificates of extraordinary cures by [his medicines], which he designs to publish in a short time.”  In other words, Weed claimed to have testimonials from actual patients to disseminate among the public.

While Weed supplied a variety of powders, syrups, and tinctures, Young devoted his entire advertisement to the American Balsam.  This remedy bore that name because a physician in London produced it from “American plants, sent to England by that ingenious gentleman Mr. William Young, of Pennsylvania, Botanist to their Majesties the King and Queen of Great-Britain.”  That botanist was the son of the advertiser, whom Hill “appointed the only capital vender of [his medicine] in all America” out of gratitude “to the young gentleman.”  Hill did allow that Young could appoint “whom he pleases under him” to sell the American Balsam.  The elder Young had an exclusive franchise, but appointed local agents in Philadelphia, Germantown, Lancaster, and Wilmington.

Weed divided his advertisement into two portions.  In the first half, he proclaimed that the American Balsam, an imported medicine, “is now so well known in Pennsylvania, Maryland, &c. &c. there is no need of any further recommendation” and then described its effective use among patients in great detail anyway.  The second half consisted of a letter from Hill in which the doctor described the afflictions the medicine cured, outlined the history of its creation and refinement, and endorsed Young as his American purveyor.  Weed did not resort to such a preponderance of prose for his Royal Balsam, produced locally, or invest nearly as much in placing his much shorter advertisement, though the “certificates of extraordinary cures” that he suggested he would soon publish likely rivaled Young’s advertisement in length.  Although  they chose different marketing strategies, Weed and Young both apparently considered their methods worth the expense of placing notices in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

August 27

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

Aug 27 - 8:27:1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 27, 1770).

“I took Dr. Weed’s Syrup for the Bloody Flux, which gave me immediate ease.”

An advertisement for “Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux” in the August 27, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle consisted almost entirely of testimonials.  One after another, four patients who had taken the elixir described how it had cured them.  For instance, Margaret Lee testified, “FOR the good of those who are afflicted with the Bloody Flux, I would inform them that I was lately seized with the disorder, and had it very bad; but by taking Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux, according to directions, I found immediate ease and by repeating it a few times was perfectly cured.”  Each of the testimonials was dated within the past month, making them current endorsements of the nostrum.

Except for a headline that read “To the PUBLIC,” the advertisement did not include any additional information, not even instructions about where to purchase Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux.  George Weed apparently did not believe that such details were necessary given his stature in the community and long experience serving residents of Philadelphia.  Dr. Weed’s Syrup and Powder for the Bloody Flux was not a mass-produced patent medicine imported from across the Atlantic.  It did not bear the name of a physician or apothecary famous throughout the British Empire.  Instead, Weed prepared his syrup and powder in Philadelphia and sought to cultivate local and regional acclaim for those medicines.  In an advertisement he placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette three years earlier, he touted his thirty of experience, including “the last seven Years of which he served in the Pennsylvania Hospital” where he “attended to all the Administrations of Medicine, and Chirurgical Operations in that Infirmary.”  Even though Philadelphia was the largest city in the colonies in 1770, it was still a small enough town that Weed could assume that readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle either already knew of him or could easily learn more by asking their acquaintances.  Whether or not that was the case, Weed gambled on making an impression by devoting his entire advertisement to testimonials and trusting that his reputation would do the rest of the work necessary to direct prospective patients to his shop.

September 20

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

Sep 20 - 9:17:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 17, 1767).

“Many other Medicines.”

In addition to working as a steward and apothecary at the Pennsylvania Hospital, George Weed sold a variety of medicines from his home “at the Corner of Arch and Front-streets” in Philadelphia. Regardless of the malady, Weed seemed to have some sort of remedy for every patient: “an excellent Syrup to cure the Bloody Flux,” “a Balsamick Syrup, which cures Colds, Coughs, Shortness of Breath, Spitting of Blood,” and other symptoms of consumption, and “a Sudorifick Elixir, which cures the Gout and Rheumatism … by a gentle Sweat.” He also peddled “Fine Cordials for Infants,” but was also prepared “to cure the Venereal Disease in all its Stages” for adult patients

In the 1770s, the apothecary assumed the title of “Dr. George Weed” in various advertisements, though this may have been a courtesy initially bestowed by patients and associates who benefited from consuming or selling his medicines. In 1767, he proclaimed that he had been “bred to the Practice of PHYSICK and SURGERY,” deploying a phrase that often denoted some sort of formal education or apprenticeship. Whatever impression such wording suggested to readers, Weed may have been referring to his “more than 30 Years Experience” during which time he “had the greatest Opportunity to gain Skill, from his own immediate Observations, and the Advice of the ablest Physicians of this Province.” If potential customers misunderstood the nature of his training, that hardly mattered compared to the “greatest Attention and Integrity” he devoted to “the Relief of the Sick, the Wounded, Infirm and Distressed.”

Weed’s employment at the Pennsylvania Hospital came to an end in 1767. Once he found himself in the position of earning a living “in a more private Station,” he may have considered his previous affiliation with the hospital sufficient for taking the title of doctor if it meant convincing more prospective customers to purchase his nostrums and tinctures. Calling himself “Dr. George Weed” bestowed additional authority as he marketed the medicines he mixed to customers in Philadelphia and exported them to other colonies. Weed did not consistently use this title in advertisements he placed during the final year of his life, but the Pennsylvania Evening Post referred to him as “Dr. GEORGE WEED” when announcing his death on February 1, 1777. For nearly a year, his widow, Elizabeth, subsequently sought to mobilize the clout associated with “Doctor George Weed” as she advertised that she continued to sell medicines he prepared before his death.

Although the apothecary did not tout himself as “Dr. George Weed” in his advertisements immediately after leaving the Pennsylvania Hospital, as more time elapsed he may have realized the benefits of shading his qualifications just slightly in order to sell his drugs. Patients who published testimonials, shopkeepers who sold his elixirs, and newspaper editors who reported his death all eventually granted him the title of doctor, perhaps out of respect for his skill and experience if not in recognition of any particular formal training.