What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“At his Shop at the Head of Hippocrates, in SALEM.”
In the fall of 1772, Nathaniel Dabney’s name would have been familiar to regular readers of the Essex Gazette. The apothecary frequently placed advertisements encouraging prospective customers to visit his shop “at the Head of Hippocrates, in SALEM.” A woodcut that depicted a bust of the physician from ancient Greece, often known as the “Father of Medicine,” atop a pillar adorned many of his advertisements. Rather than appearing in the upper left corner, as was often the case for woodcuts, the narrow image extended the length of Dabney’s advertisements. The apothecary first incorporated the woodcut into his advertisements in the fall of 1771.
A year later, he opted to publish an advertisement that did not include his signature image, though he continued to associate the “Head of Hippocrates” with his business. In this advertisement, he relied on a double headline. “Fresh DRUGS” ran in a large font on the first line, followed by his name in an even larger font on the second line. The copy suggested that his previous advertising efforts had been effective. The apothecary “RETURNS his Thanks to those Persons in Town and Country, who have been pleased to favour him with their Custom.” He then informed current and prospective customers that he just imported “a few Articles, which compleat his Assortment in the DRUG and GORCERY WAY.” He sold them “very cheap” in “large or small Quantities.”
Why did Dabney decide not to use the woodcut that became so familiar to readers and served as a logo for his shop? Perhaps he decided that he achieved sufficient visibility and name recognition that he no longer needed to include it in every advertisement. The cost of advertising may have also influenced his decision. The colophon for the Essex Gazette stated that “ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.” Advertisers paid by the amount of space their notices occupied, not the number of words. Dabney’s long and narrow woodcut and the copy that accompanied it extended far beyond “eight or ten Lines.” The apothecary may have determined that he wished to keep his name in the public eye without assuming the expense of printing the woodcut in each advertisement.