June 11

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

Jun 11 - 6:8:1769 New-York Chronicle
New-York Chronicle (June 8, 1769).

“Numbers of Disorders have been cured by them.”

When John Priestly and Charles Besronett advertised the “convenient Bath and House” they constructed at Chalybeat Springs in Bristol, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1769, they emphasized the medicinal qualities of the waters rather than promoting their establishment as a destination for tourists. Even though they claimed it was “needless to publish the Uses of these Waters,” Priestly and Besronett went into great detail about the benefits of partaking in a trip to Chalybeat Springs. The name itself came from the word “chalybeate” associated with mineral springs and medicines that contained salts of iron.

They proclaimed that “Numbers of Disorders … that had eluded the most powerful Medicines” had been cured as a result of visiting. Yet they did not ask prospective clients merely to take their word for it. To ward off suspicions of quackery, they reported that members of the Philosophical Society in Philadelphia (known today as the American Philosophical Society, one of the oldest learned societies in the nation) had conducted experiments and published the results the previous year. That “Analysis of these Waters” revealed that they contained “a Portion of Iron dissolved and suspended by a vitriolick Acid in Water, perhaps as pure as any hitherto discovered in any Part of the World.” Even if prospective clients did not understand all of the scientific terminology, the advertisers expected terms like “pure” to resonate. Priestly and Besronett directed prospective clients to consult with their own physicians who were more qualified to examine the analysis published by the Philosophical Society. Still, they presented opportunities for readers to reach their own preliminary conclusions. They anticipated that prospective clients would recognize, or at least be impressed by, allusions to “the celebrated GERMAN SPAW.”

In addition, Priestly and Besronett signaled that analysis of the beneficial results of taking the waters continued. “In Order more fully to ascertain the Virtue of these Waters,” they announced, “an exact Register is intended to be kept.” That register would included the names of clients, the maladies they sought to alleviate, and the effects of visiting Chalybeat Springs. Rather than entrust compilation of this register solely to patrons, Priestly and Besronett requested that they bring “a short Account of their Case, drawn up by the Doctor attending them.” Descriptions by physicians, especially when they invoked the specialized language of the profession, would imbue the register with greater authority, exactly the sort of legitimacy that Priestly and Besronett already demonstrated they valued when they trumpeted the analysis undertaken by the Philosophical Society.

Some advertisements from the period testify to a nascent hospitality and travel industry in early America, but Priestly and Besronett eschewed marketing strategies often adopted by advertisers who provided lodging, transportation, and entertainment. Instead, they focused almost exclusively on the efficacious effects of visiting Chalybeat Springs as a remedy for medical disorders.  In that regard, their advertisement adopted an approach similar to the one in advertisements for “Jackson‘s Mineral Well” in the Boston Evening-Post a couple of years earlier. They could have also promoted a trip to the springs as an enjoyable leisure activity, but they instead privileged their attention to scientific inquiry as the primary means of persuading prospective clients to experience Chalybeat Springs for themselves.

August 17

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

Aug 17 - 8:17:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (August 17, 1767).

“I … am of Opinion that they may be serviceable in many Disorders, if properly used.”

These items from the August 17, 1767, edition of the Boston Evening-Post blurred the lines between advertising and news content. The proprietor of “JACKSON’s Mineral Well in Boston” had previously advertised the spa in other newspapers. The “RULES” for the establishment, including the hours and rates, appeared in an advertisement on the final page of the issue that carried these announcements, easily identified as an advertisement among more than a score of other advertisements. These announcements, on the other hand, occupied a more liminal space on the third page, at the transition between the news content and advertising in the issue.

The notices had the appearance of news. They followed immediately after an extract from a “Letter from a Gentleman in London” and news from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but they preceded James McMaster’s advertisement for “A general Assortment of Scotch and English Goods” and the advertising that accounted for the remainder of the issue. In particular, the item by James Lloyd resembled a letter submitted to the newspaper rather than an advertisement. Lloyd sought to rectify an incorrect report that he described “Mr. Jackson’s mineral Spring” as being “of a noxious Quality.” Furthermore, he so wholly approved of the waters that he “recommended the Use of them” to his patients afflicted with various disorders. Was this news or an endorsement? The other item contained information that might have been considered general interest but did not explicitly address potential patrons.

Were these pieces local news items the editor selected as a service to readers? Or were they puff pieces and product placements that the proprietor of the “Mineral Well” had arranged to have printed in such close proximity to the news as to make them appear as though they came from a source that did not stand to generate revenue from inciting clients to visit the spa? If they were indeed advertisements, they could have been combined with verifiable advertisement printed on the following page.

Aug 17 - 8:17:1767 Page 3 of Boston Evening-Post
Third Page of Boston Evening-Post (August 17, 1767).

August 6

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

Aug 6 - 8:6:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (August 6, 1767).

“JACKSON’S Mineral-Well in Boston.”

The proprietor of “JACKSON’S Mineral-Well in Boston” deployed a philanthropic appeal to increase the allure of the spa. In a set of “RULES” published among the advertisements in the August 6, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, Jackson first specified the rates for enjoying the waters: one copper for “the Use of the Water” and then another copper for “every Quart Bottle to carry away.” Lest he be seen as withholding access to the therapeutic qualities of the “Mineral-Well” by focusing exclusively on how much revenue it could generate from entry fees paid by middling and affluent colonists, Jackson also proposed a plan that more broadly served the interests of the general public. Should “any Physician in Town” prescribe visiting the spa to impoverished patients, Jackson offered free admission “to any poor Persons” who could produce a certificate verifying their circumstances. These “poor Persons” could enjoy the baths “gratis,” but only after providing sufficient documentation from their doctors. Charity, it seemed, had its limits; Jackson did not want his spa overrun by the lower sorts.

The advertisement also noted that “Rules for the hot, and for the cold Baths, will be fixed up in one of the Rooms.” That Jackson did not specify or elaborate on these additional rules in his notice suggests that he was less interested in informing the public of all the procedures for enjoying the “Mineral-Well” and more concerned with getting out the word that he incorporated humanitarian ventures into his business model. Other eighteenth-century advertisers made similar bids for approval from potential customers and the community in general, including schoolmasters who provided free lessons to less fortunate children. In modern times, corporate philanthropy is a standard public relations practice, but it was not invented after the rise of Madison Avenue. Some eighteenth-century entrepreneurs experimented with promoting their businesses by engaging the needs of the community, demonstrating that they were good citizens and neighbors who merited patronage from consumers.