May 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Kelsey Savoy

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

Essex Gazette (May 26, 1772).

“Every Article in the Apothecary Way.”

Nathaniel Dabney owned a shop called “Head of HIPPOCRATES” in Salem, Massachusetts. In an advertisement from the Essex Gazette on May 25, 1772, Dabney announced he had a “fresh and full Assortment of Drugs, Medicines, Groceries, Instruments,” and more, indicating that he ran an apothecary shop. An apothecary shop in 1772 and modern pharmacies are very similar.  That inspired me to find out more about medicine in the colonies during the eighteenth century.

Individuals who ran apothecary shops, who sold or administered medicines, did not require any education or licensure, nor did physicians. In “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” Whitefield J. Bell, Jr., notes that “only one in nine Virginia physicians of the eighteenth century had attended a medical school.”[1] Physicians and apothecaries often learned from experience instead of formal training.  This began to change in the colonies in 1772, the year Dabney posted this advertisement. Bell details the Medical Society of New Jersey dedicated to getting legislation passed that required physicians to obtain licensure by the courts to practice “after examination by a board of medical men.” The society’s goal was “to discourage and discountenance all quacks, mountebanks, imposters, or other ignorant pretenders to medicine, and not to associate professionally with any except those who had been regularly initiated into medicine.”[2] Requiring training for physicians was an improvement that colonists enacted during the era of the American Revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Kelsey astutely observes that many eighteenth-century apothecary shops and twenty-first century retail pharmacies have much in common.  Neither of them exclusively carried drugs and medicines, though selling remedies of all sorts gave those establishments their primary identity.  Nathaniel Dabney (or Nathanael Dabney in other advertisements) made that clear when he selected Hippocrates, a physician from ancient Greece widely considered the “Father of Medicine,” to identify his shop.

In his newspaper notice, Dabney commenced the list of merchandise available at “the Head of HIPPOCRATES” with a “fresh and full Assortment of Drugs, [and] Medicines” and cataloged several familiar patent medicines from his “Assortment” of goods.  He sold “Turlington’s original Balsam of Life,” “Bateman’s Pectoral Drops,” “Dr. Walker’s Jesuits Drops,” “Anderson’s and Locker’s Pills,” and “Hooper’s Female [Pills],” as well as other patent medicines less commonly mentioned in newspaper advertisements.  Those nostrums were the over-the-counter medications of the day.  Customers could consult with the apothecary of they wished, just like customers ask pharmacists in retail stores for advice today, but many also selected patent medicines based on their reputation and common knowledge about the maladies they supposedly relieved.

Yet Dabney, like other apothecaries, hawked other goods.  His apothecary shop, like modern retail pharmacies, doubled as a convenience store where customers could acquire groceries, home health care equipment and supplies, and a variety of other items.  In his advertisement, Dabney promoted “Groceries,” including cinnamon, cloves, raisins, and “Flour of Mustard, by the Dozen or single Bottle.”  He also had supplies for the “Clothiers Business” and the “Painters Business,” mostly items for producing colors.  In addition, Dabney sold medical instruments to physicians, a practice not followed by most modern retail pharmacies that focus on providing care to consumers.  All the same, a visit to the Head of Hippocrates in 1772 likely would not have been that much different from a visit to CVS, Rite Aid, or other retail pharmacy today.

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[1] Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 31, no. 5 (September-October 1957): 444.

[2] Bell, “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” 453.

October 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Colleen Barrett

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

Essex Gazette (October 15, 1771).

“Apothecary’s SHOP, AT THE Head of Hippocrates.”

On October 15, 1771, Nathanael Dabney advertised his apothecary shop in the Essex Gazette. Dabney sold “Drugs, Medicines, AND Groceries” in Salem, Massachusetts. This is one of many examples of advertisements for medicines in the newspapers of the period. Dabney sold medicines and other items imported from London, including “Patent Medicines of every sort from Dicey & Okell’s Original Wholesale Warehouse.”  According to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, patent medicines, like those mentioned in the advertisement, “are named after the ‘letters patent’ granted by the English crown.” Furthermore, the maker of any of these medicines had “a monopoly over his particular formula. The term ‘patent medicine’ came to describe all prepackaged medicines sold ‘over-the-counter’ without a doctor’s prescription” in later years.  Dabney also mentioned the services he provided at his shop, letting customers know that he “will wait on them at all Hours of the Day and Night.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

As Colleen notes, customer service was an important element of Nathanael Dabney’s marketing efforts.  He concluded his advertisement with a note that “Family Prescriptions” were “carefully put up, and Orders from the Country punctually obeyed.”  A manicule helped to draw attention to these services.  That Dabney “put up” prescriptions suggests that he was an apothecary who compounded medications at his shop rather than merely a shopkeeper who specialized in patent medicines.  He likely possessed a greater degree of expertise about the drugs and medicines he sold than retailers who included patent medicines among a wide array of imported goods.

Prospective customers did not need to visit Dabney’s shop “AT THE Head of Hippocrates” in Salem.  Instead, the apothecary offered the eighteenth-century equivalent of mail order service for clients who resided outside of town.  He assured them that they did not have to worry about receiving less attention than those who came into his apothecary shop.  Instead, he “punctually obeyed” their orders, echoing the sentiments of other advertisers who provided similar services.

In addition to customer service, Dabney attempted to entice potential customers with promises of quality, declaring that he imported his drugs “from the best House in LONDON.”  He made a point of mentioning that he received “Patent Medicines of every Sort from Dicey & Okell’s Original Wholesale Warehouse,” an establishment well known in London and the English provinces.  According to P.S. Brown, newspaper advertisements published in Bath in 1770 referred to “Dicey and Okell’s great original Elixir Warehouse.”[1]  Dabney may have hoped to benefit from name recognition when he included his supplier in his advertisement.

The apothecary promised low prices, stating that he sold his wares “at the cheapest rate,” but he devoted much more of his advertisement to quality and customer service.  He waited on customers whenever they needed him “at all Hours of the Day and Night,” compounded medications, and promptly dispatched orders to the countryside, providing a level of care that consumers did not necessarily receive from shopkeepers who happened to carry patent medicines.

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[1] P.S. Brown, “Medicines Advertised in Eighteenth-Century Bath Newspapers,” Medical History 20, no. 2 (April 1976):  153.

June 18

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

Essex Gazette (June 18, 1771).

“Those who live remote shall have their Orders as faithfully complied with as if present themselves.”

Apothecaries Nathanael Dabney and Philip Godfrid Kast competed for customers.  Each placed an advertisement in the June 18, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette, inviting prospective customers to their shops in Salem.  Making the choice between the two apothecaries even more visible to readers, their advertisements appeared one after the other.  Kast, the more experienced advertiser, placed the longer notice.  It extended more than a column, extensively listing the items in stock at the Sign of the Lion and Mortar.  Kast also included blurbs about patent medicines, some of them more familiar to consumers than others, such as “Dr. Hill’s Pectoral Balsam of Honey,” “Dr. Robert James’s Powder for Fevers,” “Dr Stoughton’s great Cordial Elixir for the Stomach,” and “Dr. Scott’s Powder for the Teeth.”  Dabney, on the other hand, provided a shorter list of his inventory, but also promising “every Article in the Apothecary’s Way.”  He aimed to make himself competitive with Kast.

Both apothecaries sought clients in Salem and beyond, inviting readers unable to visit their shops to submit orders.  Dabney and Kast each pledged not to favor customers who visited their shops over those who did not.  “Those who live remote,” Dabney proclaimed, “shall have their Orders as faithfully complied with as if present themselves.”  Kast deployed similar language in a nota bene that concluded his advertisement: “Those who will send their Orders shall be as well used as if present themselves.”  That included both consumers and “Practitioners … in Town and Country.”  The apothecaries described an eighteenth-century version of mail order for “DRUGS and MEDICINES,” an effort to enhance their sales and increase their revenues by offering a convenience to their customers.  Some prospective clients may have found Kast’s advertisement the more alluring of the two.  In addition to a longer list of merchandise, the blurbs about various patent medicines served as suggestions for distant customers unable to consult with the apothecary in person.  Furthermore, Kast trumpeted that he sold his wares “as reasonable, and on as good Credit, as can be purchased in Boston.”  The apothecary no doubt sought to engage every reader, but especially prospective customers outside of Salem who might have been likely to look to Boston, the larger port, for better bargains when resorting to sending orders from a distance.

Dabney and Kast promoted the assortment of medicines they carried and pledged good customer service, but Kast further embellished his marketing efforts by comparing his prices to those in Boston and by providing descriptions of certain patent medicines to help prospective customers make their choices.  For instance, Kast declared that Stoughton’s Cordial “is as necessary for all Seamen or Travellers, and others, to take with them as their daily Food.”  That level of detail required purchasing additional space in the Essex Gazette, but Kast may have determined it was well worth the expense if it drummed up additional business.