October 11

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

Oct 11 - 10:8:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette.jpg
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 8, 1767).

“The public is referred to a pamphlet of cases, to be had of the vender.”

Nathaniel Tweedy, a druggist, operated a shop “At the Golden Eagle, in Market-street” in Philadelphia. To promote his “fresh assortment of drugs, chemical and galenical medicines, [and] patent and family medicines of all kinds,” he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and other local newspapers in the summer and fall of 1767. In several of them he marketed the “BAUME DE VIE” in particular, listing a broad range of symptoms that it alleviated. According to Tweedy, the Baume de Vie was a cure-all that benefited patients with just about any sort of malady, from “disorders of the stomach and bowels” to “female complaints.”

Tweedy did not consider a brief newspaper advertisement sufficient for relaying the virtues of this particular patent medicine. “For a more ample account of its uses,” he proclaimed, “the public is referred to a pamphlet of cases, to be had of the vender as above.” These “cases” presumably included testimonials from patients who previously benefited from the Baume de Vie. The druggist turned to the advertising pages in the public prints to incite initial interest, but hoped to stoke even more demand by making additional information available in a pamphlet. Rather than purchasing additional space in the newspaper at considerable expense, distributing pamphlets allowed him to target those consumers most interested in his product and most likely to acquire it once they learned more. Furthermore, potential customers might hold onto a pamphlet longer than they kept a newspaper. Tweedy’s marketing efforts resembled those of printers and booksellers who previewed their inventory in newspaper notices but also informed readers that they distributed catalogs at their shops.

Newspapers, catalogs, and pamphlets were all ephemeral, but sometimes catalogs and pamphlets more so than newspapers. As a result, the only evidence of some advertising materials that survives today comes from newspaper advertisements that mention other media, such as Tweedy inviting readers to visit his shop to receive a pamphlet about the Baume de Vie. This also raises questions about Tweedy’s advertising campaign. How many copies of the pamphlet did he distribute? Did he write the copy and have it printed locally? Or did the supplier of the medicines also provide pamphlets for dissemination in local markets? In giving modern readers a more complete glimpse of eighteenth-century advertising media, Tweedy’s newspaper advertisement raises a series of questions about related marketing practices.

February 9

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 9, 1767).

“A neat Assortment of DRY GOODS, which he will sell cheap.”

Today the Adverts 250 Project features its first advertisement from the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and Universal Advertiser. Likewise, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project includes its first advertisement from that newspaper. William Goddard had been publishing proposals for the Pennsylvania Chronicle in Philadelphia’s newspapers (and even the Providence Gazette) for weeks before it commenced publication on January 26, 1767. The third issue, published February 9, 1767, is the first included in Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database, though copies of the first two issues are extant in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.(*)

Goddard’s proposal included a call for advertisers to submit notices they wished to appear in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. In addition, the colophon advised readers that Goddard “gratefully received” all sorts of submissions for his newspaper, including advertisements, articles, and letters of intelligence. He achieved early successes attracting advertisers, devoting nearly half (seven of sixteen columns) of the third issue to thirty-five paid notices of varying lengths. Most promoted consumer goods and services, but some offered real estate for sale or called on debtors to settle accounts. One even offered a reward upon the return of “a young DOG of the Spaniel Breed” that had strayed from its master.

Compared to newspapers published in some smaller towns, the new Pennsylvania Chronicle overflowed with advertising, especially advertisements for consumer goods and services. The third issue even included advertisements from two entrepreneurs who branded their businesses with woodcuts that presumably replicated the shop signs that marked their locations: saddler John Young, Jr., “At the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE” and druggist Nathaniel Tweedy “At the GOLDEN-EAGLE.”

Detail of Nathaniel Tweedy’s advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 9, 1767).

This stands in stark contrast to other newspapers, such as the Providence Gazette that seemed to struggle to attract advertisers in late 1766 and early 1767. Goddard appears to have experienced no difficulty generating advertising from entrepreneurs in the busy urban port of Philadelphia. The third issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle offered dozens of advertisements to its readers. A quarter of a millennium later, I am simultaneously excited by the range of advertisements that could potentially be incorporated into the Adverts 250 Project and disappointed to choose only one at a time.

I am also frustrated to skip over so many interesting and significant advertisements, though I continue to affirm the methodology that requires doing so. Part of this disappointment stems from the dearth of advertisements available at other times during the week. For instance, since the Providence Gazette was the only newspaper published on Saturdays in 1767 and no newspapers were published on Sundays, each week the Adverts 250 Project gives disproportionate attention to advertisements from the Providence Gazette in the process of featuring advertisements published exactly 250 years ago that day or as close to that day as possible. As a result, the Providence Gazette is overrepresented and other newspapers with much more advertising remain underrepresented. On the other hand, this means that marketing efforts in at least one smaller city are subject to examination alongside the copious newspaper advertisements published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Again, I stand by the project’s methodology, but recognize that both researchers and readers must take into account both its strengths and limitations.


(*) Although this project relies primarily on digitized primary sources, I also examined original copies of the first two issues of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. From the very first issue William Goddard managed to attract advertisers.  A total of twenty-two advertisements spread over five (out of sixteen) columns appeared in the first issue (January 26, 1767), including an advertisement by Nathaniel Tweedy (without the woodcut).  The second issue (February 2, 1767) included thirty-three advertisements amounting to nearly seven columns, including advertisements by John Young, Jr., and Nathaniel Tweedy (both with woodcuts).