September 26

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

sep-26-9261766-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 26, 1766).

An Assortment of MEDICINES and GROCERIES.”

Stephen Little’s advertisement displaying “An Assortment of MEDICINES and GROCERIES” did not waste much space.” Not only did Little’s advertisement offer a diverse selection of common goods and medicines, he also claimed they were indeed the best and the cheapest around. Accepting cash only, Little offered everything from a variety of seasonings, like cinnamon, pepper, and allspice, to beverages, like wine, brandy, “French Hungary Water in Bottles,” and tea.

Little’s shop seems like a modern day drug store, advertising an array of different remedies and other products. Included were “Casteel Soap” and “Turlington’s Balsom of LIFE,” along with “Stoughton’s Elixer – Lockyer’s Pills – Dr. Ward’s Essence for Head-Ach.” T.H. Breen has discussed how advertisements like this one were able to “inflame customer desire” by offering so many goods to potential customers.[1]

After researching some of these products, I learned that “Lockyer’s Pills” were one of the most well, widely sold across London and the colonies. The pills have been described as “cure-alls.” They especially worked to relieve intestinal issues and kidney stones. In addition, this hopefully decreased doctor visits over the year.[2]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Nick decided to investigate “Lockyer’s Pills” in greater detail, I decided to do the same, but our research took us in different directions. I visited another digital humanities project and one of my favorite research blog: The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine, conducted by “an international group of scholars interested in the history of recipes, ranging from magical charms to veterinary remedies.”

In an entry devoted to “Medicinal Compounds, Efficacious in Every Case,” Lisa Smith concluded with a few words about Lockyer’s Pills, but she first offered insights that help to better understand Little’s advertisement. Little and his customers did not divide all of his wares between the categories of “MEDICINES” and “GROCERIES.” Instead, they believed that many of the grocery items possessed medicinal qualities, especially the mace, cloves, and nutmegs listed at the beginning of his current inventory. Consulting early modern herbals and pharmacopoeias, Smith states, “reveals that herbs like nutmegs, cloves, mace, aniseeds, lavender and rosemary (for example) had warming and drying properties.” This would have been important to doctors, apothecaries, and patients who believed that the hot, cold, wet, and dry properties of bodily humors needed to be balanced to achieve good health. Little offered several medicines already prepared for clients, but some likely bought what we would today consider grocery items to use in compounding their own remedies.

Smith concludes by noting that “not all cure-alls were created equal – and there were some weird ones out there,” especially the pills marketed by Lionel Lockyer. Those remedies supposedly contained an extract of the sun! For patients interested in medicines with warming and drying qualities, what could have been better?! To my delight, Smith also included an image of a broadsheet advertisement for Lockyer’s Pills.

L0002420 Broadsheet advertsing L.Lockyer's patent medicine
Broadsheet Advertising Lockyer’s Pills. Wellcome Library, London.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 476.

[2] Andrew Wear, Knowledge and Practice in English Medicine, 1550-1680 (Cambridge University Press, 2000): 425-436.

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:26:1766 Connecticut Gazette
Connecticut Gazette (July 26, 1766).

“LUKE BABCOCK, At his Shop in New Haven, has to sell … Nails, … Irish Linnens, … Raisins.”

Shopkeeper Luke Babcock’s list-style advertisement would have looked very familiar to colonial consumers. It did not elaborate much on the merchandise he stocked, except to not that Babcock sold his wares “at the most reasonable Rate.” The variety of goods – everything from “Brass Knobs” to “genuine black Barcelona Handkerchiefs” to “Lisbon Wine by the Quarter Cask” – comprised the advertisement’s primary marketing appeal, promising potential customers an assortment of choices. So many advertisers used this method of promoting their goods in eighteenth-century America that at a glance this advertisement appears indistinguishable from so many others.

On closer examination, however, it appears that Babcock introduced an innovation not readily apparent in advertisements published by many of his counterparts and competitors. His advertisement was carefully organized. Similar types of products were grouped together rather than appearing in an undifferentiated and disorienting list. Babcock first named hardware items, then textiles, and, finally, groceries. To make it even easier to navigate the advertisement, each major category had its own paragraph.

While this may seem like such common sense today that it should merit no comment, the format of this advertisement must be considered in the context of other eighteenth-century advertisements and the printing practices that shaped them. Babcock’s marketing may not have been flashy, but he attempted to make it more effective by helping readers better grasp the extent of his offerings and find merchandise that most interested them. It’s even possible that such careful organization on the printed page helped potential customers to imagine the layout of his shop, envisioning themselves examining the merchandise available in the section where hardware was stocked or in another area of the shop where textiles were displayed. Where other list-style advertisements often presented chaos, Babcock brought order to his goods, guiding consumers to the items they wanted or needed.

March 15

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

Mar 15 - 3:14:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 14, 1766).

“Sallad Oyl and Malligo Raisons.”

John Newmarch listed only four items in his advertisement: “Sallad Oyl and Malligo Raisons, LEMONS, and good OATMEAL.” While modern readers probably recognize the lemons and oatmeal, I suspect that “Sallad Oyl and Malligo Raisons” may be a bit less familiar (even putting aside eighteenth-century spellings that had not yet been standardized).

What were “Malligo Raisons”?! Most likely they were raisins (produced by drying muscat grapes) from the Malaga region along the Mediterranean coast in southern Spain. Over the centuries Malaga raisins have gained a reputation as the black pearls of Andalusia, a description that testifies to both their taste and economic value. Today Malaga raisins have been incorporated into marketing campaigns as part of the region’s tourism industry, as in this article that promotes them as part of “the most traditional vintage in Europe” and details harvesting the grapes, one by one, and transporting them over difficult terrain on the backs of mules.

Mar 15 - Malaga Raisins
Malaga Raisins.

Given that “Sallad Oyl and Malligo Raisons” were grouped together in the advertisement, I imagine that “Sallad Oyl” refers to olive oil that also originated in Spain. Today, “salad oil” refers to any edible oil used in salad dressing, but the context here suggests Newmarch stocked olive oil in particular.

These grocery items – “Sallad Oyl and Malligo Raisons, LEMONS” – bring to mind the transatlantic networks of trade in the eighteenth century, but this is not a story exclusively about commercial exchange. These items also reveal transformations in taste as residents throughout the Atlantic world incorporated new foods into their diets as part of an ongoing Columbian Exchange.

January 3

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

Jan 3 - 1:3:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 3, 1766)

“- Who has to Sell all sorts of Grocery’s at the lowest Rates.”

At first glance, this does not appear to be an advertisement for consumer goods and services.  A variety of kinds of notices populated the advertising sections of eighteenth-century newspapers, often seemingly placed haphazardly without concerns for classification or categorization.  An advertisement for goods and services might appear above a legal notice, below an advertisement for a runaway wife, to the left of an announcement about a vessel departing port, and to the right of an advertisement to sell or lease property.  Indeed, printers’ practical concerns about fitting columns on a page or using type previously set for advertisements that previously appeared likely played a more significant role in the layout of advertisements than any deliberate effort to place similar items near each other.  Edward Emerson’s advertisement requires careful reading to discover that he sold “all sorts of Grocery’s at the lowest Rates” at all.

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UPDATE:  Emerson W. Baker notes, via Twitter, that “Edward Emerson lived in York, Maine.  His house is now part of the Museums of Old York.”  He also tweeted this image of the Emerson-Wilcox House.

Emerson-Wilcox House
Emerson-Wilcox House, Museums of Old York