What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“DR. Baker’s Seaman’s Balsam … proves a most powerful Restorative.”
Nathaniel Dabney and Philip Godfrid Kast had a new competitor in the pages of the Essex Gazette. Both apothecaries regularly ran advertisements in Salem’s only newspaper, Dabney for his shop “at the Head of Hippocrates” and Kast for his shop “at the Sign of the LION and MORTAR.” On May 18, 1773, Josiah Lord commenced advertising a “general Assortment of DRUG, MEDICINES & GROCERIES” available at his “APOTHECARY-SHOP … Near the Sign of Grapes” in Ipswich. He advised that “Those who will send their Orders shall be as well used as if present themselves.” Lord likely hoped that prospective customers who previously did business with Dabney and Kast would instead visit his shop or take advantage of the convenience of sending orders through the post. He operated the eighteenth-century equivalent of a mail order pharmacy.
The apothecary devoted most of his advertisement to describing several of the patent medicines among his inventory. A few of them would have been widely familiar among colonizers, including “Dr. Anderson’s true Scots Pills … for Diseases of the Stomach, Head, Belly and for Worms,” “Dr. James’s Powder for Fevers,” and “Dr. Stoughton’s great Cordial Elixir for the Stomach.” These medicines were so popular that apothecaries, shopkeepers, and even printers stocked them and promoted them in their newspaper notices, usually referring to them only as Anderson’s Pills, James’s Powder, and Stoughton’s Elixir. Still, Lord gave more details in hopes of wooing customers. For instance, he explained that a “few Doses of [James’s] Powder will remove any continual acute Fever in a few Hours, though attended with Convulsions, Light-Headedness, and the worst of Symptoms.”
Lord gave even more attention to lesser-known patent medicines, marketing them as alternatives to familiar nostrums. “DR. Baker’s Seaman’s Balsam” did not appear in advertisements for drugs and medicines nearly as often as certain other patent medicines, so Lord educated prospective customers about its uses. He declared that this balsam “assuredly cures and prevents Putrefaction in the Gums, Kidneys, Liver and Lungs, and other noble Parts of the Body” and it “proves a most powerful Restorative in weak and lax Habits of Body, helping enfeebled Nature.” Similarly, he dedicated a paragraph to directions for using the “celebrated Volatile Essence” to relieve a variety of symptoms. “By only being smelt,” Lord declared, “it revives the Spirits to a Miracle, and recovers immediately from either Fainting or Hysterick Fits. It is likewise a most admirable Medicine in the Head-Ach, Lowness of Spirits, and Nervous Disorders; in all which Cases being taken in the Quantity of a few Drops only, it gives immediate and surprising Relief.” As an added bonus, “In the Heart-burn, a few Drops instantly removes it.”
Such descriptions of each medicine were extensive compared to the lists that appeared in many advertisements placed by apothecaries and others who sold patent medicines. Given that Lord “Just OPENED” his “APOTHECARY-SHOP” in Ipswich, he may have wished to demonstrate his knowledge of a variety of medicines, both familiar and obscure, to prospective customers. Doing so may have reassured them that Lord’s expertise rivaled that of Dabney, Kast, and other competitors in the area.