June 25

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 25, 1773).


In the summer of 1773, Joseph Tilton took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to advertise a “large and fresh Assortment of Druggs, Medicines, and Groceries” that he recently imported and stocked at his shop in Exeter.  He offered abrief overview of some of those groceries, such as “fresh Raisins, Turkey Figgs, Currants, [and] Olive Oil.”  Tilton also listed a variety of medical equipment, including “SURGEON’s pocket Instruments, best London Lancetts, … ivory Syringes, … [and] Apothecaries Scales and Weights.”  This gave prospective customers some sense of his merchandise, even if Tilton did not supply an exhaustive catalog.

When it came to that “Assortment of Druggs, [and] Medicines,” however, Tilton succinctly stated that he stocked “all the PATENT MEDICINES commonly Advertised” and did not go into further detail.  He expected that prospective customers were already familiar with the many different kinds of patent medicines frequently imported from England and the uses for each, making it unnecessary to name Keyser’s Pills, Daffy’s Elixir, James’s Fever Powder, Godfrey’s Cordial, Stoughton’s Bitters, Turlington’s Balsam, or any of the other patent medicines frequently listed in advertisements placed by apothecaries and shopkeepers.

The partnership of Munson and Mather adopted the same approach in their advertisement that appeared in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy on June 25, the same day that Tilton’s notice ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Munson and Mather declared that they carried a “fresh and universal Assortment of Drugs and Medicines” that included “Most of the Patent Medicines” familiar to consumers throughout the colonies.  Those patent medicines were so well known by their brands and their distribution in major ports and smaller towns so ubiquitous in eighteenth-century America neither Tilton nor Munson and Mather considered it necessary to exert much effort in marketing them beyond informing “Customers in Town and Country” where they could purchase “all the PATENT MEDICINES.”

November 23

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 23, 1770).

“Any Gentleman Practitioner may be served … by Letter as well as if present.”

Joseph Tilton advertised a “compleat and general Assortment of the best Drugs and Medicines” in the November 23, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Now available at his shop in Exeter, these nostrums had recently been imported from London.  Tilton listed a variety of popular patent medicines, including Stoughton’s Elixir, Lockyer’s Pills, and Walker’s Jesuit Drops, as well as grocery items often incorporated into homemade remedies.  For instance, he stocked cloves, mace, nutmeg, and ginger.  He supplemented these wares with medical equipment, including lancets and “Surgeons Needles,” and other merchandise, not unlike modern retail pharmacies that carry over-the-counter medications, home health care supplies, and food and convenience items.  For some of his merchandise, Tilton offered bargains, stating that he sold them “cheaper than can be bought in this Government.”  In other words, consumers would not find better deals anywhere in the colony.

To expand his clientele, Tilton did not require customers to visit his shop in Exeter.  In a nota bene, he advised that “Any Gentleman Practitioner, may be served with Dispatch, and their Medicines well secured, by Letter as well as if present.”  Tilton provided mail order service to physicians who desired it, an accommodation apparently worth the effort if it enticed them to choose him to supply their medicines and equipment.  He promised that such orders would not languish in his shop; instead, he would fill them and send them as quickly as possible.  Visiting Tilton’s shop in person would not achieve faster service, nor would it result in better packaging for transporting medicines.  Prospective customers did not need to worry that they would not be able to oversee how the bottles, boxes, and packets were bundled.  Tilton pledged they would be “well secured” and arrive intact.

Tilton incorporated convenience into his business model.  He advertised an array of merchandise, from patent medicines to medical supplies to groceries, for consumers to acquire at one location.  He also provided mail order service as an alternative to shopping in person.  Eighteenth-century advertisements have sometimes been depicted as mere lists of goods, little more than announcements.  Many, however, contained marketing efforts intended to convince consumers to make purchases and choose the advertiser over competitors.