What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“I am so rejoiced at my own good fortune, that I had almost forgot to thank you for curing my wife of hardness of hearing.”
When Dr. Graham, an “oculist and auralist,” arrived in Philadelphia in the fall of 1771, he placed an advertisement in the November 11, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet to inform “the inhabitants of British America in general, that he may be consulted … in all the disorders of the eyes, and in every species of deafness.” Like many other physicians who migrated across the Atlantic, he presented his credentials, stating that “after several years study at the justly celebrated University of Edinburgh, he has travelled and attended upon the Hospitals and Infirmaries in London, Edinburgh, [and] Dublin.” He acknowledged that many “practitioners in physic and surgery, gentlemen eminent in their profession,” already provided their services in Philadelphia, but nonetheless asserted that he “had more experience as an oculist and auralist, than, perhaps, any other Physician and Surgeon on this vast Continent.” At the end of his advertisements, Graham inserted five short testimonials from patients in towns in New Jersey.
By the end of the year, his advertising strategy consisted almost entirely of publishing testimonials in the Pennsylvania Packet. The December 30 edition included a “(COPY)” of a letter that the doctor received from John Thomas, a resident of Race Street in Philadelphia. Thomas explained that he had been “afflicted with the unspeakable misfortune of total deafness in both ears” for thirty years. He sometimes resorted to “a large trumpet, which assisted my hearing considerably in one ear.” Upon seeing Graham’s advertisement “in this useful paper,” Thomas sought his services. As a result of the doctor’s care, he no longer had “the least occasion for the trumpet” because he could “hear ordinary conversation” and could “conduct my business with a satisfaction, that for 30 years past I have been an utter stranger to.” In a postscript, Thomas also revealed that Graham cured his wife of “hardness of hearing, which she had been afflicted with for above fourteen years.”
An editorial note appeared at the end of the advertisement, almost certainly inserted by Graham rather than by the printer. “As it is impossible for us to insert the great number of cures Dr. Graham has performed since his arrival in this city,” the note declared, “we must therefore refer the public for further information to the Doctor, at his apartments.” This note seemed to give another third-party recommendation of Graham’s abilities to treat “all the disorders of the eye or its appendages; and in every species of deafness, [and] hardness of hearing,” but John Dunlap, the printer of the Pennsylvania Packet did not sign it. Rather than a referral from the printer, Graham devised the note to bolster an advertising campaign centered on endorsements from others. Having introduced himself in previous notices, he disseminated testimonials from local residents to bolster his reputation among prospective patients.