What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Ditto Elixir Bardana.”
Simon Wolcott advertised a “fresh and general Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES” in the December 3, 1773, edition of the New-London Gazette. The merchandise that he “Just IMPORTED from LONDON” and sold “as cheap as in New-York or Boston” included a dozen popular “PATENTED MEDICINES,” such Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, and Turlington’s Balsam of Life. The copy of the New-London Gazette digitized for inclusion in America’s Historical Newspapers, the most extensive database of eighteenth-century newspapers, includes manuscript additions. At some point, someone crossed out four of the patent medicines: Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Hill’s Elixir Bardana, Jesuit’s Drops, and Mountpelier Drops. Why?
This could have been done in the printing office, especially if Wolcott wished to update his advertisement to exclude those medicines. However, Wolcott’s notice ran in the next five issues of the New-London Gazette (which became the Connecticut Gazette with the December 17 edition) without any changes before he discontinued it in the middle of January 1774. Such marks could have also been made in the printing office if Wolcott ordered handbills but for some reason wished to feature only some of the patent medicines. Any handbills, trade cards, or other advertisements that Wolcott commissioned to supplement his newspaper notices have not survived.
Alternately, a reader may have crossed off those patent medicines for their own purposes. For instance, an apothecary or shopkeeper looking to restock their own supplies could have crossed out those that they did not wish to acquire before writing a letter and sending an order to Wolcott or taking the newspaper to his shop to guide their purchases. Similarly, someone managing a household or putting together a box of commonly used medicines for traveling could have made similar notations to indicate which medicines they needed and which they did not. Someone else may have crossed out those patent medicines for some other reason, perhaps indicating which they had tried and found ineffective.
Whatever the reason for the manuscript additions to Wolcott’s advertisement in this copy of the New-London Gazette, the marks indicate that someone engaged with the newspaper beyond merely perusing its contents. The notations indicate something of some significance to the person who made them, though their purpose remains a mystery to readers who encounter the newspaper notice centuries later.