April 6

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 6, 1772).

“At the GOLDEN MORTAR … A compleat and fresh Assortment of Drugs & Medicines.”

Very few images appeared in the April 6, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  The masthead ran on the first page, as usual, featuring a cartouche with an ornate border enclosing an image of a crown suspended over a heart.  Immediately below, the colophon stated that the newspaper was “Printed by THOMAS and JOHN FLEET, at the HEART and CROWN in Cornhill.”  Readers encountered only two other images in that issue, both of them adorning advertisements on the second page.  A woodcut depicting a ship at sea embellished a notice that announced the London would soon sail for London.  It helped draw attention to instructions for anyone interested in “Freight or Passage [to] apply to the Captain on board, or to Nath. Wheatley’s Store in King-Street.”

That woodcut belonged to the printers, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet.  The woodcut that accompanied Oliver Smith’s advertisement, however, did not.  It depicted a mortar and pestle, replicating Smith’s shop sign, “the GOLDEN MORTAR,” in the same way the image in the masthead represented the sign that marked the Fleets’ printing office.  The Fleets and other printers supplied a small number of woodcuts – ships at sea, houses, horses, enslaved people – for eighteenth-century advertisers to include in their newspaper notices.  If advertisers wished for specialized images associated exclusively with their businesses, they commissioned the woodcuts and provided them to the printers.  That also meant they could retrieve their woodcuts from one printing office and submit them to another.

Smith did so in the early 1770s.  His woodcut depicting a mortar and pestle enhanced an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in the fall of 1771.  More than half a year later, the same woodcut appeared in an advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post.  Not only did Smith attempt to widen his share of the market for “Drugs & Medicines” in Boston by advertising in multiple newspapers, he also sought to increase the visibility of the device associated with his shop.  The “GOLDEN MORTAR” served as a rudimentary trademark or brand that made his advertisements and his shop easy for consumers to identify.

September 19

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (September 19, 1771).

“To be Sold by OLIVER SMITH, at the Golden Mortar.”

Oliver Smith, an apothecary, promoted a variety of remedies in an advertisement in the September 19, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The headline proclaimed “Best double-distilled Lavender Water,” introducing the merchandise before naming the seller.  Several other advertisements featured the same structure, including one for “Choice Cheshire CHEESE” placed by Ellis Gray and another for “THE very best of fresh Orange JUICE” from John Crosby.  Most purveyors of goods and services, on the other hand, used their names as headlines for their advertisements, including Caleb Blanchard, William Jackson, John Langdon, Henry Lloyd, and Jonathan Trott.  Thomas Walley adopted both methods.  “Teneriff Wine” appeared as the first headline and then his name as a second one.

Smith’s headline helped to distinguish his notice from others, but another element of the advertisement did so even more effectively.  A woodcut depicting a mortar and pestle appeared in the upper left corner, drawing the eye of readers.  Except for the lion and unicorn in the masthead at the top of the first page, Smith’s woodcut was the only image in that issue and the supplement that accompanied it.  Further enhancing the apothecary’s marketing efforts, the woodcut corresponded to the sign that marked the location of his shop.  He advised prospective customers that they could purchase a variety of nostrums “at the Golden Mortar” on Cornhill.  Other advertisers mentioned shop signs, but did not commission woodcuts to adorn their notices.  Crosby, for instance, regularly advertised citrus fruit “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons” in the South End, but he did not include an illustration.

Advertisers typically paid for the amount of space their notice occupied, not the number of words.  In that regard, Smith and Crosby made similar investments in marketing their wares in the September 19 edition.  Smith, however, incurred additional expense for the woodcut, an investment that he presumably believed would pay for itself by resulting in more attention and more customers.

October 8

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

Boston-Gazette (October 8, 1770).

“All the Patenteed Medicines, too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.”

Oliver Smith advertised a “compleat Assortment of the very best DRUGGS and MEDICINES” in the October 8, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  He sold his remedies individually, but also offered “Family and Ship Boxes” that packaged together “most of the Medicines generally in Use” along with directions for administering them.  These eighteenth-century versions of first aid kits allowed apothecaries to increase their sales by asking consumers to anticipate possible future needs for a variety of medicines rather than wait until they had a specific need for any particular medicine.  Smith and others marketed “Family and Ship Boxes” as a convenience for their customers, but they also amounted to additional revenue for the sellers.

Smith also informed readers that he carried “All the Patenteed Medicines, too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.”  Not listing those items saved Smith both space and money.  He expected that consumers were so familiar with the array of patent medicines on the market that he did not need to name them.  This strategy also indicated confidence that he had on hand a complete inventory.  They could depend on him carrying Turlington’s Original Balsam of Life, Godfrey’s General Cordial, Walker’s Jesuit Drops, Dr. Stoughton’s Elixir, Hooper’s Pills, Greenough’s Tincture for the Teeth and Gums, Bateman’s Pectoral Drops, and a variety of other patent medicines that apothecaries, shopkeepers, and even printers frequently listed in their advertisements.  One column over from Smith’s advertisement, William Jones did indeed name all of those nostrums and others.

Much of Smith’s advertisement focused on convenience.  In addition to selling “Family and Ship Boxes” and stocking a complete inventory of patent medicines, he operated his shop at a convenient location, “the next Door Northward of Doctor John Greenleaf’s in Cornhill.”  Prospective customers who had occasion to consult with Dr. Greenleaf could then visit Smith’s apothecary shop next door to select any medicines that the doctor recommended.  Smith also noted that the shop had been “lately improved” to make it more appealing to customers.  With the various conveniences he provided, Smith sought to make it as simple as possible for prospective customers to care for their health.