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.

October 31

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

Oct 31 - 10:31:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 31, 1768).

“The above patent Medicines from the original Warehouses in London, and warranted genuine.”

In the fall of 1768 Thomas Brownjohn advertised “a large Assortment of DRUGS & MEDICINES” available at “his Medicinal Store, in Hanover-Square” in New York. He provided a list of many of the items in his inventory, confident that prospective customers were already familiar with the symptoms each of the remedies supposedly cured. Most goods had not yet been differentiated into brands in the eighteenth century, but patent medicines were an exception. They carried names readily recognized on both sides of the Atlantic, including “Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, Stoughton’s and Squires Grand Elixir, Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Doctor Radcliff’s famous purging Elixir, … Doctor Walkers Jesuit Drops, … [and] Hooper’s Anderson’s, and Locker’s Pills.” The same names appeared in advertisements placed by apothecaries from New England to Georgia.

These nostrums were widely known but not necessarily well regulated. Consumers also knew that counterfeits regularly entered the market. To address the skepticism of potential customers, Brownjohn reported that “The above patent Medicines [came] from the original Warehouses in London.” Furthermore, he pledged that they were “warranted genuine.” Turlington’s Balsam of Life was indeed Turlington’s Balsam of Life. In that case, however, customers did not have to rely solely on Brownjohn’s promises. They could also examine the packaging. John Styles notes that Turlington attempted to ward off counterfeits by rotating through “rectangular, violin and tablet shaped bottles.” In addition, those bottles “were identifiable not simply because of their shapes, but also because almost every surface was heavily embossed with letters of images.” Furthermore, “the bottles were sold with an accompanying printed bill of directions” that “illustrated the current shape of the bottle and listed the embossed information.”[1] Other patent medicine makers also deployed unique packaging in the eighteenth century. Although Brownjohn did not mention any of these additional means of confirming the authenticity of the patent medicines he sold, other retailers sometimes did so. Brownjohn may have considered it unnecessary if consumers possessed widespread familiarity not only with the products but also with the packaging when it came to patent medicines.

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[1] John Styles, “Product Innovation in Early Modern London,” Past & Present 168 (August 2000): 153-156.

July 5

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

Jul 5 - 7:5:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 5, 1768).

“EDWARD JOYCE’s famous Great American BALSAM.”

Like many other colonial American printers, Charles Crouch sold patent medicines to supplement his income from newspaper publishing and job printing. The featured advertisement from just a few days ago, for instance, listed a variety of popular patent medicines – Anderson’s Pills, Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, among them – that Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette, sold. Given that each of these remedies represented a brand familiar to colonists, Green devoted little space to describing their use or the symptoms they cured. Crouch, on the other hand, stocked a patent medicine that was not nearly as well known among his prospective customers: “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous Great American BALSAM.” Placing it in the hands of readers required more promotion than usually accompanied the most established patent medicines.

Crouch first acknowledged the origins of Joyce’s Balsam, but stressed that should not cause concern. Even though it was “made in Long-Island” and shipped from New York, this remedy was “superior by Trial, for its Use and Efficacy, to any imported from Europe.” Wary readers did not have to trust solely in Crouch’s word on that count. He concluded his advertisement by stating that Joyce’s Balsam had “cured a Number of People in New-York, whose Names are affixed to the Directions.” Skeptics could examine that evidence for themselves. Furthermore, Crouch reported that a bottle had been “brougth into this Province the latter End of last Winter” and “it cured several Persons of violent Coughs, &c. which were of a long standing.” The printer suggested that potential customers could receive local confirmation of the claims transmitted from afar.

Colonists already knew the uses for patent medicines imported from England, which ones supposedly alleviated which symptoms. Since Joyce’s Balsam was much less familiar, Crouch needed to educate readers about which maladies it relieved. To that end, he devoted the vast majority of the advertisement to describing how to take Joyce’s Balsam for colds, swelling, wounds, sprains, and an assortment of other concerns. According to Crouch’s account, Joyce’s Balsam was a cure-all that could replace any variety of imported patent medicines, though he did offer a warning that it had its limits: “I don’t say that it is an infallible cure.”

Given the number of apothecaries, shopkeepers, and printers who regularly advertised patent medicines, a market for familiar imported brands already existed. Crouch, however, wanted to create a local market for a remedy produced in the American colonies. That required more extensive copy than usually accompanied the most popular patent medicines. This included not only reviewing the uses of Joyce’s Balsam but also asserting its effectiveness as a legitimate competitor “to any imported from Europe.”

July 1

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

Jul 1 - 7:1:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (July 1, 1768).

The Medicines are the best in their Kind.”

Like many other eighteenth-century printers, publishers, and booksellers, Timothy Green supplemented the income he generated via newspaper subscriptions, advertising fees, job printing, and book and stationery sales by selling other items not specifically related to the book trades. In the July 1, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, he placed an advertisement announcing that he sold “An Assortment of Patent Medicines.” He then listed several remedies that would have been very familiar to colonists: “Dr. Hill’s pectoral balsam of Honey,” “Elixer Bardana,” “Anderson’s or Scotch Pills; Turlington’s genuine Balsam of Life; Bateman’s Drops; Locker’s Pills; Godfry’s Cordial; [and] Stoughton’s Stomach Elixer.” He concluded with a bouble “&c.” – the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera – to indicate that he stocked many more medicines. Green anticipated that these nostrums were so familiar to his readers and prospective customers that he did not need to explain which symptoms they cured, though he did briefly note that those who experienced rheumatism or gout should invest in in “Elixer Bardana.” He gave a slightly longer pitch for Dr. Hill’s balsam, promoting it as “a very useful Medicine in Consumptions and all Coughs and Complaints of the Breast, from whatever Cause.”

These patent medicines were brand names in England and its American colonies in the eighteenth century. They were widely available from apothecaries who specialized in compounding and selling medicines, merchants and shopkeepers who sold assortments of general merchandise, and those who followed other occupations (including printers) who sought to supplement their income. Shopkeepers and, especially, apothecaries regularly advertised that they filled orders for patent medicines that they received through the mail, making Bateman’s Drops and Godfrey’s Cordial and the rest even more widely available to colonial consumers. Realizing that he faced local and regional competition, Green offered incentives for customers to purchase their patent medicines from him. In a nota bene, he proclaimed, “The Medicines are the best in their Kind, and will be sold as low as in any retailing Store in America.” In an era of counterfeits, Green promised quality. He also addressed readers skeptical that he could match the prices of shopkeepers who sold patent medicines are part of their usual inventory or apothecaries who specialized in dispensing drugs. He prices were not merely reasonable; they were “as low as in any retailing Store in America.” Although he was a printer by trade, Green offered justifications for colonists to purchase patent medicines from him rather than others more versed in eighteenth-century medicines.

April 24

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

Apr 24 - 4:21:1768 Pennsylvania Journal Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (April 21, 1768).

“NATHANIEL and JOHN TWEEDY, Druggists, near the Court-House, Philadelphia.”

Druggists Nathaniel Tweedy and John Tweedy advertised frequently in the late 1760s.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Journal.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  They spread their marketing efforts across multiple publications to increase the likelihood that colonists in Philadelphia and its hinterlands would encounter their notices.

The Tweedys also varied the content of their advertisements.  Some listed an extensive assortment of “DRUGGS and MEDICINES” as well as surgical instruments and other medical supplies.  Others focused exclusively on the Baume de Vie, a patent medicine.  The Tweedys proclaimed that they had been “appointed the sole vendors … in America by the patentee.”  To further convince potential customers of the efficacy of the Baume de Vie they sold “a narrative of the extraordinary effects of said medicine, and the book of observations” for one shilling and six pence.  For those who did not wish to make such an investment, the druggists also offered to “lend them to those who will be kind enough to return them after perusal.”  Even though the Baume de Vie was the primary focus of some of their advertisements, they still devoted nearly half of the content in those notices to marketing their shop more generally.  In both newspapers and pamphlets, the Tweedys used print to promote their wares.

Compared to most other advertisers, the Tweedys were particularly savvy when it came to one aspect of newspaper advertising.  Rather than running one advertisement at a time and eventually replacing it with an updated or new advertisement, they simultaneously published several advertisements at the same time.  On occasion they even inserted multiple advertisements into a single issue of a newspaper, perhaps believing that each would enhance the effectiveness of the others.  Vendue masters in Boston frequently adopted this strategy, but their turnover in merchandise at each auction explains their decision to do so.  The Tweedys, on the other hand, operated a shop with a fairly constant inventory. Given the length of many of their advertisements, they certainly could have combined listing their wares and promoting the Baume de Vie into one advertisement.  Yet they chose instead to saturate newspapers with greater numbers of advertisements, increasing the likelihood that readers who perused the notices would encounter and remember their shop and the goods and services they offered.  Readers of the April 24, 1768, edition of thePennsylvania Journal, for instance, would have seen the Tweedys’ advertisement for the Baume de Vie on the second page of the supplement as well as a lengthier advertisement listing their merchandise on the fourth page.  By the end of the eighteenth century inserting multiple advertisements into a single newspaper became common practice, but the Tweedys experimented with the technique decades earlier, demonstrating its potential to other advertisers.

October 27

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

Oct 27 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 4
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 27, 1767).

“A choice assortment of FAMILY MEDICINES.”

In the fall of 1767 Thomas Corker took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advertise a variety of items he had “Just imported” from Bristol and London. Like many other eighteenth-century merchants and shopkeepers, he listed his merchandise: lampblack, corks, several textiles, and “a choice assortment of FAMILY MEDICINES.”

As with most other newspaper advertisements of the period, Corker most likely wrote the copy but left typographical decisions to Charles Crouch, the printer, and the compositors who worked in his shop. With the exception of the occasional woodcut, the advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal had fairly uniform visual aspects. Little about the typography of one advertisement distinguished it from others.

Corker’s advertisement, however, did feature one deviation from the standard typography adopted throughout other advertisements in that newspaper. One of his products, “FAMILY MEDICINES,” appeared in capital letters near the end of the advertisement. It seems unlikely that the compositor would have chosen to highlight that particular item without specific instructions from the advertiser. Why “FAMILY MEDICINES” and not the textiles or corks or lampblack? Corker may have desired to place special emphasis on that part of his inventory, requesting that the format of the advertisement call attention to the “FAMILY MEDICINES” in one way or another even if he did not specify capital letters.

Corker’s copy also suggests that he wanted potential customers to take note of his “FAMILY MEDICINES” in particular. In addition to promoting the “choice assortment,” he also proclaimed that the “credit of which is such that renders it needless to recommend them.” He did not devote as many words to his other wares, nor did he advance appeals specific to any of the others. Yet he assured readers of the efficacy of the patent medicines he stocked, promising that they were so effective that they did not merit further comment.

Thomas Corker placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in order to incite demand and increase sales of all of the goods in his shop, yet both the copy and the format suggest that he placed special emphasis on selling his “choice assortment of FAMILY MEDICINES.”

October 13

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

Oct 13 - 10:13:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 13, 1767).

“THE famous new-invented STOMACH PILLS, prepared by JAMES SPEEDIMAN.”

Colonial shopkeepers and apothecaries frequently advertised a variety of imported remedies, especially patent medicines with names widely recognized by consumers. The “new-invented” pills for stomach ailments “prepared by JAMES SPEEDIMAN” did not have that advantage. Since they were mostly unfamiliar to local customers, William Williamson had to put special effort into marketing them in the fall of 1767.

He first established that patients in other places, especially England, had embraced Speediman’s “STOMACH PILLS.” The proprietor had been granted “HIS MAJESTY’S ROYAL LETTERS-PATENT.” In addition, Williamson assured potential customers that “those Pills are found effectual” by patients on the other side of the Atlantic. They had earned a positive reputation and were “approved of in Great-Britain.” Williamson mobilized both bureaucratic approbation and public consensus as endorsements of Speediman’s pills.

Yet local consumers did not need to trust solely William’s representation of how the pills had been received in England. He reported that he had brought a few boxes to South Carolina the previous year, “upon Trial” for his customers. After he distributed them, “they proved so beneficial to sundry Persons who used them” that patients wanted more of them and made “very frequent Applications” for them. This convinced Williamson to acquire a greater quantity, which had just arrived in port. Although Williamson did not provide testimonials, he did suggest that local consumers could verify that Speediman’s pills had worked for them.

In order to sell these stomach pills, Williamson also created a sense of exclusivity. He noted that Speediman made them available to him “by particular Appointment,” selecting him – “and him only” – to sell the pills in South Carolina. To substantiate the authenticity of the pills, Williamson delivered them with “printed Directions” that had been “signed with the Proprietor’s own Hand.” Advertisers sometimes indicated that other medicines came with printed directions and other marketing material, but rarely did they have such an immediate connection to “the Proprietor.” This also contributed to forging an aura of exclusivity.

William Williamson had a relatively new product, one not yet familiar to most consumers in his local marketplace. Colonists were already familiar with other patent medicines, with other brands, and their effects so he needed to convince them to give Speediman’s stomach pills a chance. To do so, he stressed that their effectiveness had made them popular in England, but emphasized that they were not yet widely available in South Carolina. Due to an exclusive contract, local consumers could obtain them only from him.

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.