What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
Joshua Brackett placed an advertisement in the February 22, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform prospective customers that he had “Just Imported … A fresh and general assortment of MEDICINES and GROCERIES.” He listed some of the items available at his shop in Portsmouth, but concluded his notice with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that consumers would discover much more merchandise on hand when they did business with him. Indeed, “&c.” at the end of a paragraph about medicines and “&c. &c.” at the end of a paragraph about groceries underscored the amount of choice consumers encountered at his store. Brackett carried so many medicines and groceries that he could not include all of them in his advertisement.
Among the medicines, Brackett listed several popular patent medicines so familiar to consumers that he did not need to indicate which symptoms each alleviated. He stocked “Lockyer’s and Anderson’s Pills, James’s Powders, Stoughton Elexir, Jesuits Drops, [and] Turlington’s Balsam.” For colonial consumers, these amounted to eighteenth-century versions of over-the-counter medications. Customers might have consulted with Brackett when making selections, but they were also likely to visit his shop already knowing which medicines they intended to purchase. The reputations of each patent medicine were already so widely known that Brackett did not need to comment on them.
Other advertisers sometimes went into greater detail, either listing many more items or offering descriptions of patent medicines and other goods. Such notices, however, cost more due to the amount of space they filled (rather than the number of words they contained). Brackett apparently considered it worth the investment to place a short notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette, but not a longer one. He believed that he provided enough information to attract the attention of prospective customers, letting them know that he had an extensive inventory of popular medicines and groceries and that he charged low prices. Brackett depended on those aspects of his advertisement to generate enough interest for readers to visit his shop and choose among his wares.