July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:9:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (July 9, 1770).

All which he will sell as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston.”

In the summer of 1770, Nathaniel Tucker advertised a “large Assortment of DRUGS & MEDECINES, Chymical & Galenical,” for sale at his shop across the street from the Old South Meeting House in Boston.  His notice in the Boston Evening-Post listed several popular patent medicines, including Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Squire’s Original Grand Elixir, Fraunces’s Female Strengthening Elixir, and Dr. Bateman’s Golden Spirits.  These nostrums were so familiar to colonial consumers that Tucker did not elaborate on their efficacy.

He did, however, promote his low prices.  Tucker concluded his advertisement with a proclamation that he sold all of these items “as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston.”  He did not name any prices, but he did suggest to prospective customers that they would not find better bargains anywhere in the bustling port city.  Like the readers of the Boston Evening-Post, Tucker realized that consumers had many options for purchasing Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Dr. Walker’s Jesuit’s Drops, and the rest.  Apothecaries stocked them, but such specialists were not alone in making them available. Shopkeepers who sold all sorts of goods also carried patent medicines.  Even printers and booksellers frequently advertised that they sold patent medicines in addition to books, pamphlets, and stationery, a side hustle that supplemented revenues from activities more often associated with their trade.

In addition to offering low prices, Tucker implied that he would adjust those prices to reflect the local market.  Although he did not explicitly state that he matched the prices of his competitors, his assertion that he “will sell as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston” suggested that his prices were flexible rather than fixed.  In addition to not having to worry about being overcharged, prospective customers likely had opportunities to haggle with Tucker; such encounters were opportunities for him as well, opportunities to make sales that might otherwise have gone to other purveyors of patent medicines.  Rather than simply listing the medicines at his shop, Tucker deployed price as the primary means of inciting demand for his wares.

March 4

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

Mar 4 - 3:1:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (March 1, 1770).

“MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store.”

The colophon on the final page of the Pennsylvania Journal stated that the newspapers was “Printed and Sold byWILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD, at the Corner of Front and Market-Streets” in Philadelphia.  Like other eighteenth-century printers, the Bradfords cultivated multiple revenue streams.  They sold subscriptions and advertising space in the Pennsylvania Journal, did job printing, and sold books and stationery wares.  They also peddled patent medicines, another supplementary enterprise undertaken by many printer-booksellers.  An eighteenth-century version of over-the-counter medications, patent medicines likely yielded additional revenue without requiring significant time, labor, or expertise from those who worked in printing offices and book stores.

In a brief advertisement in the March 1, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the Bradfords informed prospective customers that they carried patent medicines: “A few Bottles of MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store of William and Thomas Bradford.”  Once again, the Bradfords followed a precedent set by other eighteenth-century printers, exercising their privilege as publishers of a newspaper to use it to incite demand for other goods they offered for sale.  Yet they did not merely set aside space that might otherwise have been used for either news for subscribers or notices placed by paying customers.

It appears that the Bradfords may have engineered the placement of their advertisement for patent medicines on the page.  It ran immediately below a lengthy advertisement for “YELLOW SPRINGS,” a property for sale in Chester County.  The notice proclaimed that the “Medicinal virtues of the springs … for the cure of many disorders inwardly and outwardly are so well known to the public, that it is thought unnecessary to mention them here.”  The advertisement than offered descriptions of the springs and the buildings and baths constructed to take advantage of their palliative qualities.

That advertisement primed readers of the Pennsylvania Journal to think about health and their own maladies.  Most were unlikely to travel to Yellow Springs, much less purchase the property, yet patent medicines were within easy reach.  Compositors often placed shorter advertisements for other goods and services offered by printers at the bottom of the column, filling in leftover space.  That the Bradfords’ advertisement appeared in the middle of a column, immediately below the advertisement for Yellow Springs, suggests that someone in the printing office made a savvy decision about where to place the two advertisements in relation to each other.

February 16

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

Feb 16 - 2:16:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 16, 1770).

“A choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines.”

As was a common practice for colonial printers, Timothy Green often inserted multiple advertisements in the newspaper that he published.  The February 16, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, included two advertisements placed by Green.  One announced that he sold the “Connecticut Colony Law-Book.”  The other advised prospective customers of a “choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines, Just come to Hand, and TO BE SOLD” by the printer. Green aimed to supplement revenues generated in his printing office.

Patent medicines might seem like unlikely merchandise for a printer to peddle, but after job printing, blanks, books, and stationery wares printers throughout the colonies advertised such nostrums and elixirs more than any other kind of goods and services.  Selling patent medicines seems to have been a side business frequently associated with printers.  In addition to advertising patent medicines in the newspapers they published, some printers also listed them in the book catalogs they distributed and in advertisements in the almanacs they printed.

Stocking and selling patent medicines may have been a relatively easy endeavor for printers.  Green marketed “Turlington’s Balsam of Life,” “Anderson’s Pills,” “Hooper’s Female Pills,” “Daffy’s Elixir,” “Dr. Hill’s Essence for Sore Eyes.” “Bateman’s Drops,” “Godfry’s Cordial,” and several other familiar medicines that purported to alleviate or eliminate specific symptoms.  Many consumers already knew the advantages of “Stoughton’s Elixir” versus “Locker’s Pills,” so Green did not have to play the role of apothecary in making recommendations.  Many patent medicines came in packaging with printed directions; Green did not have to offer instructions when he sold those items.  Printers who sold patent medicines did not take on the responsibilities associated with apothecaries.  Instead, they invited customers to participate in the eighteenth-century version of purchasing over-the-counter medications.  Selling patent medicines did not require much additional time or labor, making them attractive as an alternate source of revenue for printers who ran busy printing offices.

November 22

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

Nov 22 - 11:22:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 22, 1769).

“These pills are an infallible cure.”

An unnamed advertiser placed a notice for “Dr. HAMMOND’s SPECIFICK PILL” in the November 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, informing prospective customers that “Any person may be informed where these pills are to be sold by applying to the printer of this paper.” The advertisement listed a variety of maladies that the pills cured, including leprosy, scurvy, yaws, venereal disease, and even “pimpled faces.” The remedy was gentle, safe for “women with child, or persons of the most delicate constitutions.” The advertiser described this “new Medicine” as “one of the greatest ever offered to the Publick” and promised that they provided a “CERTAIN cure.”

All of this probably sounded too good to be true to many colonists. After all, readers regularly encountered advertisements for patent medicines in newspapers published throughout the colonies. Those who marketed pills and potions often claimed that they cured all kinds of diseases, deploying the most hyperbolic language in making their promises. To address some of the concerns of skeptics, this advertisement reported that the pills came with “printed directions, and signed by the author, Thomas Hammond, M.M. Bristol.” Furthermore, the advertisement directed “the dubious” to take into account “the great success this medicine has met with in Barbados, Jamaica, St. Kitts, and Granada,” apparently expecting that word of mouth recommendations from the Caribbean had reached colonists in Georgia. If that were not convincing enough, readers could also take into consideration “many great cures” attributed to Dr. Hammond’s pills in England “which have been continually inserted in the newspapers. Even if skeptical customers could not check those newspapers, the advertisement suggested that merely stating that such evidence existed should satisfy any concerns. Savvy customers likely remained suspicious of the claims made in the advertisement, despite the purported proof of the efficacy of Dr. Hammond’s pills, but some may have been eager enough to find some sort of relief for their symptoms that they allowed themselves to be convinced, or at least experience some hope, that the pills would indeed work for them. The many layers of claims made in the advertisement served to wear down any distrust by “the dubious,” just as similar repetitions of claims about miracle drugs sold via infomercials in the twenty-first century attempt to do for modern consumers.

October 21

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

Oct 21 - 10:21:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 21, 1769).

“He will sell as cheap as are sold in Boston, or any Part of New-England.”

In the fall of 1769, Amos Throop sold medicines at a shop “on the West Side of the Great Bridge, in Providence.” His inventory included “a fresh Assortment of Medicines, Chymical and Galenical” as well as sago and “all Sorts of Spices.” He also stocked a variety of familiar patent medicines, such as “Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Hooper’s Female Pills, Anderson’s Pills, Stoughton’s Elixir, and Hill’s Balsam of Honey.” Throughout the colonies, consumers recognized these brands. Apothecaries and shopkeepers from New England to Georgia advertised these popular patent medicines.

When they did so, they competed with each other. Their advertisements often made clear that they served not only local customers who visited their shops but also those who lived at a distance and submitted orders via letters or messengers. Throop addressed “Families in Town or Country” in his advertisement, acknowledging that he sought the patronage of customers beyond Providence. For all of his prospective customers, Throop pledged that he parted with his medicines “as cheap as are sold in Boston, or any Part of New-England.” Appeals to price were also familiar in eighteenth-century advertisements for medicines, but such comparisons were much less common. Throop did not even bother with assuring readers that he offered the best prices in town. He was so wary of competition from Boston that he framed his prices in relation to prices charged by druggists and shopkeepers there. Lest that raise questions about bargains that might be found elsewhere within the regional marketplace, he provided blanket assurances that he offered the best prices in all of New England. Perhaps claiming that he had the best prices in all of the colonies would have strained credulity!

Incorporating any sort of price comparison into an advertisement was relatively innovative in the late 1760s. It suggested that both the advertiser and consumers possessed a level of familiarity with the local and regional marketplace that allowed them to make or to assess such claims.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:13:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 13, 1769).

“At Mr. JOSEPH SOLOMAN’S … in Lancaster, by the appointment of Mr. HAMILTON, Surgeon Dentist.”

At the same time that advertisements for Mr. Hamilton’s amazing tincture for curing toothaches and other maladies ran in multiple newspapers in New York in July 1769, it also appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, a newspaper published in Philadelphia with circulation far beyond that city. The copy in the Pennsylvania Gazette matched the New York advertisements almost exactly – including the guarantee of “No CURE No PAY” – except for instructions about where customers could acquire the tincture for themselves. Readers of newspapers printed in New York were directed to “Mrs. Buskirk’s, the corner of Wall-Street, near the Coffe-house,” where they could consult directly with Mr. Hamilton, “Surgeon Dentists and Operator for the Teeth from LONDON.” The variant in the Pennsylvania Gazette, on the other hand, gave directions to local agents in Pennsylvania. Readers could purchase the tincture “at Mrs. [illegible], next door to the Indian Queen, in Fourth-street, Philadelphia; and, at Mr. JOSEPH SOLOMAN’s, in King-street, near the Court-house, in Lancaster.” Purveyors of the tincture in Pennsylvania stocked and sold it “by the appointment of Mr. HAMILTON.”

Inserting advertisements in all of the newspapers published in New York was ambitious on its own, but designating local agents and branching out to yet another newspaper in another colony was even more innovative. In eighteenth-century America, most providers of goods and services confined their marketing efforts to newspapers that served their own city or town. Printers and publishers were an important exception; they frequently placed subscription notices in newspapers throughout the colonies to gauge the market and generate sufficient interest to move forward with printing a book, magazine, or other publication. This involved designating local agents to receive subscriptions, collect payment, and distribute publications after they went to press, but those agents were usually fellow printers who already participated in networks for exchanging newspapers and information. Still, this was a model that need not work for printers exclusively. Hamilton experimented with designating local agents in Philadelphia and Lancaster as a means of enlarging the market for his tincture.

Doing so required prospective customers to place trust in the local agents in addition to Hamilton, especially when it came to the “No CURE No PAY” guarantee. Clients in New York used the tincture under the direction of Hamilton and could appeal to him directly if the medicine did not produce the desired effect. Clients in Philadelphia and Lancaster, in contrast, had to depend on fair dealing by local agents who may not have possessed Hamilton’s experience or expertise. After all, the advertisement described Hamilton as a “Surgeon Dentist,” but did not indicate the occupations of his local agents in Pennsylvania. Other portions of the advertisement may have alleviated some concerns by presenting a portrait of Hamilton’s character. In addition to describing Hamilton’s tincture, the advertisement provided an overview of the services he provided in New York. Hamilton “cleans and beautifies teeth” and “makes and sets in artificial teeth.” He served his clients “with dispatch and secrecy.” The advertisement concluded with a nota bene that depicted Hamilton as a humanitarian: “the poor, afflicted with the tooth-ach, cured gratis, every morning, from 8 to 10 o clock.” Was such information about Hamilton’s practice in New York superfluous in an advertisement placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette? Readers in Philadelphia and, especially, Lancaster were unlikely to travel to New York to have Hamilton clean their teeth or fit them with artificial teeth. The poor were even less likely to make such a journey. Hamilton could have reduced the costs of advertising in the Pennsylvania Gazette if he had eliminated that portion of the advertisement, yet that information was not superfluous. It testified to Hamilton’s competence and professional demeanor, allowing him to cultivate a reputation that might have made faraway readers more inclined to trust his description of his toothache tincture and, in turn, deal with local agents who sold it on his behalf.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:10:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (July 10, 1769).

“No CURE No PAY.”

As part of his marketing efforts, Mr. Hamilton, “Surgeon Dentist and Operator for the Teeth, from LONDON,” offered prospective patients a guarantee: “No CURE No PAY.” If his tincture for toothaches did not yield the desired results by relieving the pain in just a few minutes then clients did not have to pay for Hamilton’s services. Colonial consumers were rightfully suspicious of quack doctors and remedies that seemed too good to be true, so Hamilton made a pitch intended to help prospective patients overcome their skepticism and give his tincture a chance, figuring that they did not lose anything if it did not work.

Given Hamilton’s description of his tincture and its effects, leading with the guarantee was probably a smart move. It did sound too good to be true. In addition to curing toothaches without drawing (or pulling) teeth it also “cures all disorders whatever in the mouth or gums.” For instance, after just a few applications the tincture “will fasten the teeth if ever so loose.” Hamilton also proclaimed that his tincture “will perfectly cure the scurvy in the gums” as well as prevent teeth from rotting, preserve “such as are decayed from becoming worse,” and eliminate “disagreeable smells from the breath.” But wait, there’s more! Hamilton’s amazing tincture did mote than relieve maladies of the mouth. When applied elsewhere, it had the power to “entirely remove all kinds of swellings in the cheek or pain in the ear.” It could cure violent headaches as well as “the most violent rheumatic pains in any part of the body.” Hamilton drew in patients with the promise of relieving toothaches. His guarantee covered only that service, but it opened the door for promoting his tincture for other uses. It very well could have included an ingredient that provided temporarily relief for toothaches, giving Hamilton an opportunity to make a hard sell to patients. For just “One Dollar each,” consumers could purchase Hamilton’s “valuable tincture.” If it relieved toothaches, even if only temporarily, then why not acquire a bottle to experiment with other ailments?

Hamilton went all in with this marketing strategy. In July 1769, he inserted identical advertisements trumpeting “No CURE No PAY” in all the newspapers published in New York, the New-York Chronicle, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, and the New-York Journal. Colonists who read more than one newspaper could hardly avoid Hamilton’s advertisements. Increased exposure to his promise of “No CURE No PAY” may have also played a role in convincing some prospective patients to give his tincture a try.

April 10

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 10, 1769).

“A FRESH supply of choice drugs and medicines.”

When I looked at this advertisement I wondered what kinds of “drugs and medicines” colonists had in 1769? How did colonists deal with diseases? According to Robin Kipps, who manages the Pasteur & Galt Apothecary at Colonial Williamsburg, “The sciences of biology and chemistry had not made significant impacts on the theories of disease. The big health issues of the day were not heart disease, cancer, obesity, or diabetes; they were smallpox, malaria, and childhood illnesses.” In the colonial and revolutionary periods, Americans did not have to worry about the same kind of disease that we do today. Instead, they had all kinds of other deadly diseases they had to worry about that people nowadays do not need to worry about due to advances in science and medicine. Colonists did not have the vaccines at this point in time to prevent many deadly diseases from happening and spreading to others, though they had experimented with smallpox inoculation.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

John Sparhawk had competition. He was not the only purveyor of “choice drugs and medicines” in Philadelphia who advertised in the April 10, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Robert Bass, an apothecary who regularly inserted advertisements in several local newspapers, also ran a notice, one that may have more effectively captured the attention of prospective clients.

Sparhawk, a bookseller, published a comparatively sparse advertisement. Like many other printers and booksellers in eighteenth-century America, he supplemented his income by selling other items, including patent medicines, on the side. Such was the case with the “FRESH supply” that he had “just received from London” and sold at his bookstore. He made appeals to price and quality, pledging that he sold them “as low as can be bough[t] in America of equal quality,” but otherwise did not elaborate on these patent medicines.

Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 10, 1769).

Robert Bass, on the other hand, underscored his expertise in his advertisement, using his superior knowledge to leverage readers to visit his shop to seek consultations and make purchases. In addition to using his own name as a headline, he listed his occupation, “APOTHECARY,” all in capitals as a secondary headline. He did not merely peddle patent medicines that he had imported from suppliers in London. He also “strictly prepared” medicines in his shop, filling all sorts of prescriptions or, as he called them, “Family and Practitioners Receipts.” For those who desired over-the-counter remedies, he also stocked “a Variety of Patent Medicines.” His experience and reputation as an apothecary suggested that he could more effectively recommend those nostrums to clients based on their symptoms than Sparhawk the bookseller could. Bass also carried medical equipment, further underscoring his specialization in the field.

Not every customer needed the level of expertise Bass provided. Many would have been familiar with several patent medicines. For those customers who desired to make their own selections from among the products available on the shelves, Sparhawk (and Bass as well) simply made appeals to price and quality. That model differed little from patrons choosing over-the-counter medications at retail pharmacies or other kinds of stores today. For prospective customers who required greater skill and expertise from the person dispensing medications, Bass made it clear in his advertisement that he was qualified to address their needs.

April 6

Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 6, 1769).

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

“MICHEAL POREE, SURGEON DENTIST.”

The professions of surgeon, dentist, and barber were once the same. The familiar rotating pole of red and white symbolizes their past. However, Michael Poree only advertises as a dentist in the New-York Journal.

His advertisement made me wonder about the differences between medicine, especially surgery, in early America and today. Surgeries are conducted frequently today because anesthesia is available, but that was not the case in colonial America. Another reason why surgeries were conducted infrequently was because doctors did not know as much about what was inside the human body. Giles Firmin, an English surgeon and dentist who arrived in Massachusetts in 1630 believed that better understanding was necessary. According to William C. Wigglesworth, “Firmin’s insistence on the necessity of accurate anatomic knowledge led him, in 1647, to argue that the General Court should pass a resolution providing that ‘such as studies of physic or chirugery may have liberty to reade anatomy, and to anatomize once in foure years some malefactor in case there be such, as the Court shall afford.’ Nevertheless, not until 1834 would the General Court legalize dissections of unclaimed bodies, at the urging of the Massachusetts Medical Society.”  To learn more, visit “Surgery in Massachusetts, 1620-1800.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Michael Poree, a surgeon dentist, offered a variety of services “to remedy the various complaints incidental to the teeth and gums” in his advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the April 6, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. Yet those services may not have been the primary source of his income. He devoted far more space in his notice to hawking patent medicines, some of them related to dentistry but others intended for other afflictions.

One “PREPARATION” that he sold had multiple purposes, as did many other patent medicines promoted in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. Poree recommended it “for cleaning and preserving the teeth and gums,” but also noted that it cured scurvy. He peddled another “potion” that he trumpeted as “excellent for curing all disorders in the mouth, eradicating every degree of scurvy in the gums; preserving the teeth from decaying, and rendering them beautiful, white and sound.” The surgeon dentist had an eye for the cosmetic aspects of his occupation. In addition to helping patients maintain teeth that were white and beautiful, he promised that his artificial teeth “appear as well … as real teeth.”

Poree also attempted to enhance his own authority as both a surgeon dentist and, especially, a purveyor of patent medicines by invoking his relationship with a doctor who had achieved some renown in the region. Dr. Forget had attracted so many patients in Philadelphia that it “prevents his visiting the different parts of North-America,” a situation that allowed Poree to serve as Forget’s surrogate in New York. The doctor had sent to him “some general medicines” to sell to patients who were not able to travel to Philadelphia. These included “an apozem” or infusion for combatting a variety of fevers, “a potion for removing all obstructions of the viscera and womb,” and “a water” or tincture for “every disorder of the eyes” that made surgery unnecessary.

When it came to surgery, Poree specialized in dentistry, but he expanded his practice by selling patent medicines for maladies beyond those that affected the teeth and gums. As he dispensed preparations, apozems, potions, and waters, he likely consulted with patients and clients on a broad range of medical concerns. The nota bene that concluded his advertisement also suggests that he referred people to Forget for situations that were too far beyond his own area of expertise. Yet he first attempted to capture as much of the market for medical attention as possible by selling patent medicines in addition to providing his services as surgeon dentist.

December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:6:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 6, 1768).

“A List of the Person’s Names may be seen affixed to the Directions.”

According to their advertisements, eighteenth-century printers and booksellers often carried at least some merchandise not related to the book trades. Throughout much of 1768 Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, attempted to supplement the revenues gained from subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing by also selling a patent medicine he imported from Long Island, New York, “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous GREAT American BALSAM.” He placed lengthy advertisements about this patent medicine in the summer; as winter arrived, he inserted shorter notices to remind readers that they could purchase this elixir “at his Printing Office in Elliott-street.”

In case prospective customers suspected that Crouch sought to clear out leftovers that had been sitting on the shelves for several months, he proclaimed that he had “A FRESH SUPPLY.” That was only the first of several appeals he made in the abbreviated version of his advertisement. He also offered a bargain, pledging that customers could acquire the nostrum for “Five Shillings cheaper than any yet sold here.”

The price did not matter, however, if the patent medicine was not effective. Crouch assured consumers that “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous GREAT American BALSAM” was “superior by Trial, for its Use and Efficacy, to any imported from Europe.” Readers did not even need to consider any of those more familiar remedies produced in London and other places on the far side of the Atlantic, not when they had access to a product produced in the colonies that was even better. Crouch did not expect prospective customers to simply take his word that others had found the potion “superior by Trial.” Instead, he reported on “surprising Cures” in both New York and South Carolina, stating that “a List of the Person’s Names may be seen affixed to the Directions.” Even if local customers did not recognize the names of any of the patients cured in New York, they were likely to be familiar with colonists from South Carolina who had benefited from “this very famous BALSAM.” In providing directions that also listed satisfied customers, Crouch deployed printed materials beyond newspaper advertising to market this patent medicine to consumers.