August 3

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (August 3, 1772).

Vide the case of Flackfield published in this paper the 29th June, and 6th of July instant.”

When they feuded over selling “Dr. KEYSER’S famous PILLS” for venereal disease in the summer of 1772, Charles Crouch and Powell, Hughes, and Company ran advertisements that referenced notices by their competitor.  In the July 30 edition of their South-Carolina Gazette, Powell, Hughes, and Company even reprinted Crouch’s most recent advertisement “From the South-Carolina GAZETTE, AND Country Journal, of July 28, 1772.  [No. 348.]”

Hundreds of miles to the north, another purveyor of “KEYSER’s famous PILLS” placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy that directed readers to a notice he placed weeks earlier.  On July 20, Michaell B. Goldthwait ran a notice in which he asserted that doctors who prescribed the pills and observed the results “have produced the following testimonies which is written under Dr. Hammond Beaumount’s original certificate of the case* of Thomas Flackfield, a soldier in the 26th Reg’t, an event that astonished all the officers of that corps, and all the inhabitants of New-York.”  The asterisk directed readers to a note at the end of the advertisement: “Vide the case of Flackfield published in this paper the 29th June, and 6th of July instant.”  Goldthwait cited his own lengthy advertisement for “Dr. Keyser’s celebrated PILLS” that overflowed from one column into another.  Much of that earlier notice consisted of a narrative of “The Case of Thomas Flackfield,” signed by “H. BEAUMONT, Surgeon to his Majesty’s twenty sixth, or Cameronian Regiment,” and dated “New-York, May 10, 1772.”

On July 27, that original advertisement ran once again, but on August 3 Goldthwait once again published the newer notice that cited the earlier one.  It featured two new testimonials, including “The Opinion of Dr. JOHN KEARSLEY, of Philadelphia, published now with his knowledge and consent,” and an “Extract of a Letter from a Doctor of Physick in a City to the Southward of Philadelphia.”  Although this new advertisement likely provided sufficient information to entice doctors and patients hoping to cure “the French disorder” as well as “the several diseases specified in the printed direction,” Goldthwait asked prospective customers to consider other notices from his marketing campaign.  He also expected that readers had fairly easy access to previous issues of the weekly Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Subscribers sometimes held onto issues for some time before discarding them.  Coffeehouses also maintained libraries of recent newspapers, allowing patrons to peruse them for items they missed.

Whether part of a feud between rival printers who peddled patent medicines in South Carolina or a marketing campaign devised by an apothecary in Massachusetts, advertisements for Keyser’s pills were not always standalone entries in the entries in which they appeared.  Instead, the advertisers expected that readers had seen other advertisements and even provided citations for them to find additional advertisements they referenced as they told a more complete story about the products they sold.