October 21

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

Oct 21 - 10:21:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 21, 1769).

“He will sell as cheap as are sold in Boston, or any Part of New-England.”

In the fall of 1769, Amos Throop sold medicines at a shop “on the West Side of the Great Bridge, in Providence.” His inventory included “a fresh Assortment of Medicines, Chymical and Galenical” as well as sago and “all Sorts of Spices.” He also stocked a variety of familiar patent medicines, such as “Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Hooper’s Female Pills, Anderson’s Pills, Stoughton’s Elixir, and Hill’s Balsam of Honey.” Throughout the colonies, consumers recognized these brands. Apothecaries and shopkeepers from New England to Georgia advertised these popular patent medicines.

When they did so, they competed with each other. Their advertisements often made clear that they served not only local customers who visited their shops but also those who lived at a distance and submitted orders via letters or messengers. Throop addressed “Families in Town or Country” in his advertisement, acknowledging that he sought the patronage of customers beyond Providence. For all of his prospective customers, Throop pledged that he parted with his medicines “as cheap as are sold in Boston, or any Part of New-England.” Appeals to price were also familiar in eighteenth-century advertisements for medicines, but such comparisons were much less common. Throop did not even bother with assuring readers that he offered the best prices in town. He was so wary of competition from Boston that he framed his prices in relation to prices charged by druggists and shopkeepers there. Lest that raise questions about bargains that might be found elsewhere within the regional marketplace, he provided blanket assurances that he offered the best prices in all of New England. Perhaps claiming that he had the best prices in all of the colonies would have strained credulity!

Incorporating any sort of price comparison into an advertisement was relatively innovative in the late 1760s. It suggested that both the advertiser and consumers possessed a level of familiarity with the local and regional marketplace that allowed them to make or to assess such claims.