March 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 26 - 3:24:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (March 24, 1766).

“A General Assortment of the freshest and best of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”

In this advertisement, Philip Godfrid Kast sold something a little different. Imported from the last ships from London (which is a way to guarantee their freshness), he sold “a general assortment of the freshest and best of DRUGS and MEDICINES.” I have never seen a pharmaceutical advertisement when looking through colonial newspapers for the Adverts 250 Project, which is why I chose this advertisement for today.

Kast characterizes his drugs as “Chymical” (which is the historical spelling of “chemical”) and “Galenical” (which is a medicine made from natural ingredients – plant or animal components – rather than synthetic components). Most prescription medications made today are of the chemical sort, since over time they have been proven to help more, and can be developed further to help more people.

What else further interested me was that this was a “dual” advertisement almost. Philip Godfrid Kast advertised for himself in Salem as well as for Dr. Stephen Huse in Haverhill, Maassachusetts. This is interesting because those towns are around twenty miles apart. Is it possible that these were the only two shops on the North Shore of Massachusetts that sold pharmaceuticals other than the port of Boston? Also, I noticed that Huse had the label of “Dr.” whereas Kast did not. This makes me wonder if they could possibly have been business partners or maybe Kast was more like a pharmacist today and Huse was more like a doctor today. Or maybe colonial Americans did not care as much about getting their medicines from such an official.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I intended to feature this advertisement (from a previous issue of the Boston Post-Boy) last week before my Public History students resumed their guest curator duties, but when Elizabeth submitted her list of proposed advertisements for this week I held off for a bit. I figured it would be much more interesting to see what each of us thought was interesting and important about this advertisement.

What originally drew me to this advertisement? In early January I included another advertisement from Kast in my analysis of the featured advertisement of the day. The Kast advertisement I used, however, was a trade card rather than a newspaper advertisement. I posted it because the trade card included an image of Kast’s “Sign of the Lyon & Mortar.” Most colonial shop signs have been lost to time, but trade cards provide an alternate form of preservation of the image if not the material object.

Philip Godfrid Kast Trade Card
Philip Godfrid Kast’s trade card engraved by Nathaniel Hurd in Boston in 1774 (American Antiquarian Society).

All of the advertisements that Elizabeth examined this week have told us something about consumer culture and life in eighteenth-century America, but in at least one aspect some of her advertisers themselves were extraordinary. Recall that Mary Symonds, the milliner from Philadelphia, also issued a trade card for her business. (Elizabeth also included a trade card from William Breck, whose shop “at the Golden Key” was located near the shop promoted in the featured advertisement on another day.) Very few retailers, merchants, producers, or suppliers distributed trade cards in colonial America. Only a small fraction of newspaper advertisers experimented with advertising campaigns that utilized multiple media. I’ve been hoping that some of my students would have an opportunity to examine some of those advertisers, but I never would have guessed at the outset of this project that any of them in any single week would encounter two or more advertisers who used trade cards to supplement their newspapers advertisements.