GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“An Assortment of MEDICINES and GROCERIES.”
Stephen Little’s advertisement displaying “An Assortment of MEDICINES and GROCERIES” did not waste much space.” Not only did Little’s advertisement offer a diverse selection of common goods and medicines, he also claimed they were indeed the best and the cheapest around. Accepting cash only, Little offered everything from a variety of seasonings, like cinnamon, pepper, and allspice, to beverages, like wine, brandy, “French Hungary Water in Bottles,” and tea.
Little’s shop seems like a modern day drug store, advertising an array of different remedies and other products. Included were “Casteel Soap” and “Turlington’s Balsom of LIFE,” along with “Stoughton’s Elixer – Lockyer’s Pills – Dr. Ward’s Essence for Head-Ach.” T.H. Breen has discussed how advertisements like this one were able to “inflame customer desire” by offering so many goods to potential customers.
After researching some of these products, I learned that “Lockyer’s Pills” were one of the most well, widely sold across London and the colonies. The pills have been described as “cure-alls.” They especially worked to relieve intestinal issues and kidney stones. In addition, this hopefully decreased doctor visits over the year.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
When Nick decided to investigate “Lockyer’s Pills” in greater detail, I decided to do the same, but our research took us in different directions. I visited another digital humanities project and one of my favorite research blog: The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine, conducted by “an international group of scholars interested in the history of recipes, ranging from magical charms to veterinary remedies.”
In an entry devoted to “Medicinal Compounds, Efficacious in Every Case,” Lisa Smith concluded with a few words about Lockyer’s Pills, but she first offered insights that help to better understand Little’s advertisement. Little and his customers did not divide all of his wares between the categories of “MEDICINES” and “GROCERIES.” Instead, they believed that many of the grocery items possessed medicinal qualities, especially the mace, cloves, and nutmegs listed at the beginning of his current inventory. Consulting early modern herbals and pharmacopoeias, Smith states, “reveals that herbs like nutmegs, cloves, mace, aniseeds, lavender and rosemary (for example) had warming and drying properties.” This would have been important to doctors, apothecaries, and patients who believed that the hot, cold, wet, and dry properties of bodily humors needed to be balanced to achieve good health. Little offered several medicines already prepared for clients, but some likely bought what we would today consider grocery items to use in compounding their own remedies.
Smith concludes by noting that “not all cure-alls were created equal – and there were some weird ones out there,” especially the pills marketed by Lionel Lockyer. Those remedies supposedly contained an extract of the sun! For patients interested in medicines with warming and drying qualities, what could have been better?! To my delight, Smith also included an image of a broadsheet advertisement for Lockyer’s Pills.
 T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 476.
 Andrew Wear, Knowledge and Practice in English Medicine, 1550-1680 (Cambridge University Press, 2000): 425-436.