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