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.

April 30

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

Apr 30 - 4:30:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 30, 1768).

“Each pot is sealed with his coat of arms, as in the margin of the directions, to prevent fraud.”

For quite some time John Baker, “SURGEON DENTIST,” had advertised his services to the better sorts and others and other residents of Boston in the newspapers published there, but in the spring of 1768 he migrated to New York and informed “the gentry” that “he will wait on receiving their commands.” He announced that he “cures the scurvy in the gums” and “makes artificial teeth,” just a few of the many aspects of dental hygiene and health he addressed in the lengthy notice he inserted in the New-York Journal.

In addition to those various services, the itinerant surgeon dentist also hawked a product that readers could purchase with or without undergoing any of the procedures he performed. A manicule drew attention to Baker’s “Dentrific … for preserving the teeth and gums.” Here Baker used an alternate spelling for “dentifrice,” a precursor to toothpaste described by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a powder or other preparation for rubbing or cleansing the teeth.” Baker provided “proper directions,” presumably a printed sheet or pamphlet, with each purchase.

He also realized the potential for counterfeits to circulate in a marketplace with little regulation of medicines. To that end, the inserted a nota bene to announce that “Each pot is sealed with his coat of arms, as in the margin of the directions, to prevent fraud.” Whether Baker actually anticipated spurious dentifrices attributed to him, this proclamation enhanced his marketing efforts. It implied that his dentifrice was so effective that others would indeed attempt to peddle substitutes that they passed off as authentic. It also allowed him to assert that he possessed his own coat of arms, which now doubled as a trademark to readily identify his product. Earlier in the advertisement he declared that he had provided his services “to the principal nobility, gentry, and others of Great-Britain, France, Ireland, and other principal Places in Europe.” Invoking his own coat of arms accentuated that claim, suggesting that his treatments were so effective that clients of means and influence had obtained his services and been satisfied with the results. As a newcomer to New York, Baker could not rely on a reputation built over time through extended interactions with local residents as a means of attracting new patients. Instead, he used his dentifrice, his coat of arms, and his own reports concerning his previous clients to achieve recognition and encourage prospective patients to engage his services in a new city.

December 29

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

dec-29-12291766-newport-mercury
Newport Mercury (December 29, 1766).

“Dentifrice … will preserve the Teeth.”

John Baker, a surgeon dentist, had recently arrived in Newport. Since potential local clients did not know him, he offered a variety of assurances and references in his advertisement. To demonstrate his qualifications, he noted that he had “given sufficient Proof of his superior Judgment, in this Art, to the principal Nobility, Gentry, and others, of Great-Britain, France, and Ireland, and other principal Places in Europe; also to some Hundreds in the Town of Boston.” In his bid to attract clients among “the Gentry” of Newport, he underscored that the better sort in cities throughout Europe had already entrusted him and been pleased with the results. Still, any charlatan might make claims about his vaunted clientele on the other side of the Atlantic. Boston, on the other hand, was nearby, making it much more difficult to exaggerate the reputation he had earned there.

Baker’s concern for his reputation extended to a product he sold, a patent medicine “called Dentifrice,” in addition to the services he offered. The itinerant surgeon dentist made several claims about what his “infallible” Dentifrice would accomplish. Because it was “quite free from any corrosive Preparation,” the Dentifrice “will restore the Gums to their pristine State; will preserve the Teeth, and render them perfectly white; will fasten those that are loose, and prevent them from further Decay.” To protect his reputation and to make sure that customers purchased the correct product, Baker and his agent in Boston provided “proper Directions” along with each pot of the Dentifrice. Each pot was “seal’d up with his Coat of Arms” to prevent tampering or fraud. Baker’s coat of arms was also printed “in the Margins of the Directions” so customers could compare it to the seal and verify the authenticity of the product for themselves.

John Baker offered several services – cleaning and filling teeth and making and repairing artificial teeth – but the surgeon dentist realized that merely advertising those services might not be sufficient to attract clients when he arrived in Newport. In the absence of having established a reputation locally, he promoted the reputation he had earned in other cities and provided other means for certifying the products that he sold.