What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The most effectual Medicine that has ever yet been offered to the Public, for the Cure of an inveterate Scurvy.”
John Norton, surgeon and proprietor of “Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops,” and Thomas Powell, his local agent in Charleston, deployed a variety of marketing strategies in an advertisement that ran in the January 10, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. Filling almost an entire column, the advertisement included a recitation of the various maladies that the patent medicine supposedly cured, two testimonials from former patients, an overview of the patent medicine’s reputation in England and Ireland, and a notice that Powell was the only authorized seller. Eighteenth-century advertisements for patent medicines often included one or more of these various elements, but this particular advertisement was notable for incorporating all of them.
Norton and Powell billed Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops as the “most effectual Medicine that has ever yet been offered to the Public, for the Cure of an inveterate Scurvy, Leprosy, and pimpled Faces … so as never to return again.” In addition, the patent medicine cured sores, ulcers, and hemorrhoids, purified blood, and “prevents malignant Humours of every Kind from being thrown upon the Lungs.” Yet that was not all, according to Norton and Powell, who proclaimed that the drops were effective “in eradicating every Disorder incident to the Human Body, proceeding from the Scurvy, or Foulness of the Blood.”
The lively commentary did not end there. Norton and Powell inserted two testimonials, one from Joseph Feyrac, “late Lieutenant-Colonel to His Majesty’s 28th Regiment of Foot in Ireland,” and the other from John Good, “late Surgeon to His Majesty’s Sloop Ferris.” Feyrac’s lengthy testimonial accounted for half of the advertisement. He went into detail, describing the “Particulars of my Distemper” and other treatments he had endured. He experienced temporary relief after consulting “an old Woman” who administered “Juice of Herbs, preceded by violent Bleedings.” He traveled to Bath, but “found a bad Effect from the Waters.” Feyrac described several times that he was incapacitated for a month or more. A physician and a surgeon provided various treatments, but those also produced only temporary relief. Feyrac was “Low in Spirits” when he happened to read one Norton’s advertisements in the English press. He asked others who had taken Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops about their experiences, discovering that the remedy “had performed a great Number of Cures, in all the Disorders” mentioned in the advertisements. When Feyrac took the medicine himself, he began experiencing relief within a week. Several months later, he reported that he was “well recovered; my Strength is returned, my Spirits good.”
Good’s testimonial was much shorter, simply declaring the “valuable Drops” had “entirely cured me of a dangerous and obstinate Fistula.” Some of the value of this testimonial no doubt derived from Good’s former service as “Surgeon to His Majesty’s Sloop Ferris.” His own experience tending to patients likely enhanced his standing in recommending this patent medicine. Good also framed his testimonial as a service to the public, stating that making it public “may be the Means of doing Service to the Community in general.”
Such stories contributed to the reputation Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops earned in England in Ireland. The drops were so effective “in all Disorders occasioned by the Scurvy, that even Numbers of the Faculty” of the Corporation of Surgeons in London “have been induced to seek Relief from the known Virtues of this excellent Medicine.” In addition, Norton brandished his credentials, stating that he “was regularly brought up in the Practice of Surgery.” He also stated that the king had granted “His Royal Letters Patent” to Norton for “the preparing and vending” of the patent medicine.
Given the reputation and success of Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops on the other side of the Atlantic, Norton and Powell hoped to create demand in the colonies. Their advertisement noted that Norton appointed Powell as “the sole Vendor … in the Southern Colonies of AMERICA.” Consumers could purchase the drops “with printed Directions for using them” from Powell only. Such exclusivity served as a form of quality control and guarded against counterfeits, increasing consumer confidence.
From descriptions of the maladies the patent medicine cured to testimonials from patients who recovered after taking the drops to commentary about their reputation, Norton and Powell provided prospective customers with a variety of reasons to purchase Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops. They combined multiple marketing strategies into a single advertisement as they attempted to make a convincing case to consumers.