October 8

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

Boston-Gazette (October 8, 1770).

“All the Patenteed Medicines, too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.”

Oliver Smith advertised a “compleat Assortment of the very best DRUGGS and MEDICINES” in the October 8, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  He sold his remedies individually, but also offered “Family and Ship Boxes” that packaged together “most of the Medicines generally in Use” along with directions for administering them.  These eighteenth-century versions of first aid kits allowed apothecaries to increase their sales by asking consumers to anticipate possible future needs for a variety of medicines rather than wait until they had a specific need for any particular medicine.  Smith and others marketed “Family and Ship Boxes” as a convenience for their customers, but they also amounted to additional revenue for the sellers.

Smith also informed readers that he carried “All the Patenteed Medicines, too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.”  Not listing those items saved Smith both space and money.  He expected that consumers were so familiar with the array of patent medicines on the market that he did not need to name them.  This strategy also indicated confidence that he had on hand a complete inventory.  They could depend on him carrying Turlington’s Original Balsam of Life, Godfrey’s General Cordial, Walker’s Jesuit Drops, Dr. Stoughton’s Elixir, Hooper’s Pills, Greenough’s Tincture for the Teeth and Gums, Bateman’s Pectoral Drops, and a variety of other patent medicines that apothecaries, shopkeepers, and even printers frequently listed in their advertisements.  One column over from Smith’s advertisement, William Jones did indeed name all of those nostrums and others.

Much of Smith’s advertisement focused on convenience.  In addition to selling “Family and Ship Boxes” and stocking a complete inventory of patent medicines, he operated his shop at a convenient location, “the next Door Northward of Doctor John Greenleaf’s in Cornhill.”  Prospective customers who had occasion to consult with Dr. Greenleaf could then visit Smith’s apothecary shop next door to select any medicines that the doctor recommended.  Smith also noted that the shop had been “lately improved” to make it more appealing to customers.  With the various conveniences he provided, Smith sought to make it as simple as possible for prospective customers to care for their health.

February 13

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

feb-13-2131767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 13, 1767).

“His friends and customers may depend on being well served.”

Apothecary James Dick sold “A FRESH sortment of chemical and galenical MEDICINES” imported from London. Like other druggists in the colonies in the 1760s, he assembled “BOXES of MEDICINES, with directions, for plantations and ships.” In providing this service, he likely also moved portions of his inventory that tended to sell more slowly, especially if given the discretion to fabricate these eighteenth-century first aid kits rather than including only items specified by purchasers.

In addition to the ease and convenience of these “BOXES of MEDICINES,” Dick wanted his “friends and customers” to know that he emphasized service in other ways. He made a fairly unique pitch when he concluded his advertisement by noting that “he has now got from London a young gentleman regularly bred, who attends the shop constantly.” Advertisers from a variety of occupations and professions frequently pledged to treat potential customers well, often promising to fulfill their duties with “care” or “dispatch.” When mobilizing such appeals, however, advertisers usually referred to their own demeanor and qualities. Dick, on the other hand, described possible interactions with his employee.

Very few advertisers mentioned employees, perhaps because many ran small operations limited to family members and maybe an apprentice.   Even shopkeepers and artisans who may have had assistants of various sorts deployed advertising in which they retained their role as the public face of the businesses they operated.

By promoting the contributions of his assistant, Dick made at least two appeals to prospective customers, one practical and one aspirational. When he noted that his assistant “attends the shop constantly,” the apothecary let readers know that someone would be available to assist them no matter when they visited. Given that the druggist provided medical services, he may have been called away from the shop on occasion. Rather than close his shop, he made arrangements for an assistant to be present even when he was not.

In addition, when he noted that his assistant not only came from London but was “a young gentleman regularly bred” the apothecary conjured images of a prosperous and genteel shop where customers would be met with courtesy and deference. Given his line of business, Dick rightly assumed that some customers visited his shop when feeling their worst. The image of a “young gentleman regularly bred” serving those customers suggested an atmosphere of pampering and authentic concern rather than a hurried transaction in a busy dispensary. Some retail pharmacies make similar appeals today, emphasizing interactions – even relationships built over time – with pharmacists and other staff.