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.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (June 4, 1767).

“Genuine Medicines to be sold in New-York, by GERARDUS DUYCKINCK Merchant, only.”

Several apothecaries operated shops in New York and advertised in the local newspapers in the spring of 1767, but they were not the only residents who sold medicines in the city. Gerardus Duyckinck, a merchant who ran the “UNIVERSAL STORE, Or the MEDLEY of GOODS … At the Sign of the Looking-Glass, and Druggist Pot,” also peddled remedies.[1] As he was not an apothecary himself, he dressed up his advertisements with several sorts of puffery in order to compete with others who specialized in compounding drugs and selling patent medicines.

For instance, Duyckinck opened his advertisement with what appeared to be some sort of official proclamation that bestowed some degree of exclusivity on the merchant: “To the PUBLICK. By Virtue of the King’s Royal Patent for Great-Britain, Ireland, and the Plantations, for many Patent Medicines, to the Proprietors of each, to enjoy the full Benefit, are now sold under the Royal Sanction, by Messieurs William and Cluer Dicey, and Comp. of London, who now appoint their genuine Medicines to be sold in New-York, By GERARDUS DUYCKINCK Merchant, only.” Although the advertisement listed many tinctures and nostrums advertised and sold by several druggists and apothecaries in New York, the grandiloquent language implied that Duyckinck alone possessed the right to peddle those cures. Anyone else did so without official sanction.

This also allowed Duyckinck to warn readers against counterfeits and assure potential customers that he sold only authentic medicines. He did so in two ways. In a nota bene, he announced that all the drugs on his list had been “bought by William and Cluer Dicey, and Comp. from the original Ware-Houses, and warranted genuine.” In addition, he provided “Proper Directions to each … to avoid the Consequence of Counterfeits.” Duyckinck did not outright accuse his competitors of selling counterfeits, but the several aspects of his advertisement worked together to create doubts about the efficacy and authenticity of any medicines purchased from other vendors. Patent medicines were advertised far and wide in colonial newspapers. By inserting these enhancements to what otherwise would have been a standard list-style advertisement, Duyckinck devised a marketing strategy that distinguished him from his competitors.

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[1] For this description of his store, see the other advertisement Duyckinck placed on June 4, 1767, a list-style notice of an assortment of imported goods in the New-York Journal. It briefly mentioned “Drugs and Medicines” near the end.

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:6:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 6, 1767).

“A GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF MEDICINES.”

Lewis Johnson operated an apothecary shop in colonial Savannah, though his advertisement did not indicate if he compounded remedies onsite in addition to selling “A GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF MEDICINES” that included ingredients and readymade elixirs. For the latter category, he depended on customers’ familiarity with established brands, listing several popular patent medicines recently imported from London. These included “Daffy’s elixir, … Squire’s elixir, Bateman’s drops, Stoughton’s ditto, Godrey’s cordial, Turlington’s balsam, James’s powders strong and mild, and Anderson’s pills.” Johnson expected that patients were already familiar with the symptoms each of these medicines purported to relieve. Few products had so firmly established brand identities in the eighteenth century. In terms of name recognition and, sometimes, packaging materials, creators of patent medicines led the way in developing branding as an effective marketing strategy.

In addition to the half dozen or so pills and potions already noted, Johnson also carried the “Family Medicines of Dr. Hill’s,” several different elixirs associated with the same physician, each intended for specific indications. For instance, patients suffering from gout and rheumatism could purchase Hill’s “Elixir of bardana,” but those with colds, coughs, and even consumption should instead choose the “Balsam of honey.” Johnson listed nearly as many tinctures and elixirs from Hill’s “Family Medicines” as the other sorts of patent medicines combined. In this regard, Hill had worked out an effective system for increasing sales. Many competitors either marketed their medicines as cure-alls or specified an astonishing array of symptoms they relieved. Hill, on the other hand, associated particular medical problems with specific medicines formulated with unique ingredients considered especially efficacious for the circumstances. In so doing, he multiplied the number of potential sales possible for each customer.

The assorted remedies Lewis Johnson stocked in his apothecary shop would certainly look strange to modern consumers, but the experience of shopping there would not have been that much different than visiting a twenty-first-century retail pharmacy. Customers recognize certain brands. When feeling ill, they find comfort in selecting familiar remedies, often expressing preferences for one over another even when the competing brands combat the same symptoms.

March 2

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

mar-2-321767-new-york-gazette
New-York Gazette (March 2, 1767).

“THE BOSEM, OR, ORIENTAL BALSAM; FOR Preventing the APOPLEXY, SUDDEN DEATH, &c.”

Today’s advertisement offered “BOSEM, OR, ORIENTAL BALSAM,” described as a “CEPHALIC CORDIAL Medicine” that imbued the user with strength and energy for the heart, body, and spirit as well as cured certain diseases. This product supposedly revitalized the nervous system and dealt with ailments gained from old age like poor sight, dizziness, weak joints, shaking limbs, and loss of strength. The medicine was used for to treat fainting, strokes, epilepsy, and other diseases affecting the brain. D. Ingram also claimed that it helped reduce dangers both prior to pregnancy and those that arose after giving birth. The Bosem was also useful for dealing with tropical diseases picked up in the West Indies.

This sort of product was commonly referred to as patent medicine, a trend dating back to medieval Europe. A patent medicine was a product advertised by swindlers and apothecaries, whose “noisily hawking, or ‘quacking,’” gave rise to the term quack. Americans brought patent medicines over from Europe, and even developed their own home grown varieties, although there was preference for European products. Patent medicine had strong ties to newspaper advertisements, sometimes purchasing much of the advertising space, thus filling both the swindler and editor’s pockets.

Jim Cox states that the appearance of patent medicines actually held more credibility than the contents, with American producers reusing old bottles of European products and refilling them with either addictive or foul tasting substances before selling them off as the original product. The bosem advertised here originated in the ancient world as a perfume, although later apothecaries used it in medicines in the Far East before, if the advertisement is to believed, it spread throughout the British empire in the 1760s.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Providers of goods and services who resided in England rarely placed advertisements in American newspapers. Among the exceptions, purveyors of patent medicines most commonly hawked (or quacked about) their wares in colonial publications – or at least seemed to do so. Although all but the final two lines of this notice seem to have been composed by D. Ingram, “Man Midwife, Professor of Surgery and Anatomy, and Surgeon to Christ’s Hospital” in London, McLean and Treat most likely made the arrangements with the printer of the New-York Gazette to insert the advertisement. Note that the description of the medicine was dated October 1, 1765, more than a year before this appearance among advertisements in the New-York Gazette. Ingram likely distributed the same copy to newspapers in London as well as agents in the English provinces and American colonies whenever he made arrangements to enter new markets.

As Sam explains, patent medicines were particularly susceptible to counterfeiting. Producers and sellers of these nostrums worked out various means to assure potential customers who read their advertisements that they would indeed acquire authentic medicines. As this advertisement suggests, one method was making their concoctions available exclusively from select agents. In the case of Ingram’s Bosem, this notice informed residents of New York that it was “Sold by M‘LEAN, and TREAT only.” Similarly, Dr. Hill, who peddled a variety of medicines (each for different symptoms – none seemed to be the cure all Ingram purported the Bosem to be), placed a notice in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette announcing that he had “appointed Messrs. CARNE and WILSON my agents, for the sale of my medicines in CAROLINA.” Limiting the number of sanctioned sellers of particular patent medicines allowed producers to exert control over the distribution of their products, protecting their reputation from fraudulent imitators. It may have also allowed the designated agents to charge a premium thanks to their exclusive access to the product.

January 23

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

jan-23-1231767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette-page-6
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 23, 1767).

A List of Dr. HILL’s Medicines sold by Messrs. Carne and Wilson.”

Patent medicines became a staple of American advertising about as soon as the first weekly newspapers were published in the early eighteenth century, so much so that historians of advertising have focused attention disproportionately on these quack remedies. Why not? The advertisements hawked potions with odd names, emphasized strange ingredients, and made wild claims today considered obviously false, making later generations marvel that anyone could have possibly been influenced by that sort of marketing.

Yet patent medicines were indeed popular in eighteenth-century England and America, perhaps the first class of commodities to develop distinct and recognizable brand names. For instance, John Hill’s “PECTORAL BALSAM OF HONEY,” the first of half a dozen medicines listed in today’s advertisement, appeared in advertisements printed in newspapers throughout the colonies. Both apothecaries and shopkeepers announced that they imported and sold elixirs produced by Hill and other English “doctors,” assuming prospective customers recognized names and products like Anderson’s Pills, Batemans’s Drops, Stoughton’s Bitters, and Turlington’s Balsam. Unlike most purveyors of patent medicines, Hill, a botanist and author, did hold a medical degree.

Given the ease of counterfeiting patent medicines in a marketplace without formal regulation of medical supplies, Hill and others made various efforts to protect both their reputations and their share of the market. For instance, Hill designated specific agents authorized to sell his patent medicines. His advertisement first identified the men who operated on his behalf before listing and describing the remedies they sold to colonists: “I HAVE appointed Messrs. CARNE and WILSON my agents, for the sale of my medicines in CAROLINA; and all persons may be supplied wholesale and retail by them.” Others in Charleston and beyond sold patent medicines, including Hill’s various nostrums, but Carne and Wilson sought to benefit from having a seal of approval from Dr. Hill himself as they sold “ESSENCE OF WATER DOCK,” “TINCTURE OF VALERIAN,” and other medicines compounded by the famous doctor.