July 24

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

Jul 24 - 7:24:1769 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 24, 1769).

“This valuable tincture … sold … at Mrs. CROSSWALL’S in Thames-street[,] Newport.”

In the summer of 1769, Mr. Hamilton, a “Surgeon Dentist and Operator for the teeth, from LONDON,” offered his services to residents of New York. He also advertised a tincture for curing toothaches that he made available beyond New York and its hinterlands. In marketing that remedy, Hamilton placed advertisements in multiple newspapers in New York as well as newspapers published in other cities. In those other locations, the advertisements specified local agents who distributed the tincture on Hamilton’s behalf. The Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, ran an advertisement identical to those that appeared in newspapers in New York except for the addition of local agents in Lancaster and Philadelphia. It made sense for Hamilton to commence his attempt to enlarge his market with the Pennsylvania Gazette. Printed in Philadelphia, the largest city in the colonies, the Pennsylvania Gazette had an extensive circulation as a regional newspaper whose “local” readers included colonists throughout Pennsylvania as well as Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and beyond.

Hamilton, however, did not confine his efforts to newspapers published in New York and Pennsylvania. He also inserted his advertisement in the Newport Mercury, hoping to attract customers in Rhode Island and other parts of New England. That advertisement featured identical copy except for the inclusion of a local agent who sold Hamilton’s tincture for curing toothaches. Hamilton instructed interested parties to acquire it “at Mrs. CROSSWALL’S in Thames-street[,] Newport.” The advertisement did not specify whether Crosswall or one of her boarders served as Hamilton’s local agent, nor did the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette specify whether it named local agents in Lancaster and Philadelphia or their landlords.

If these advertisements did name the local agents, Hamilton worked with women in Newport and Philadelphia. Although lacking titles like “Surgeon Dentists and Operator for the teeth,” these women exercised medical authority as they consulted with clients in the process of distributing the tincture and, especially, in making determinations about the “No CURE No PAY” guarantee that Hamilton included in every advertisement. He did not limit that guarantee to customers in New York who purchased the tincture directly from him. Instead, he extended it to customers who acquired the tincture in Lancaster, Newport, and Philadelphia, transferring responsibility to local agents for making assessments about the veracity of claims made by anyone who claimed that the tincture had not alleviated their pain.

Hamilton’s endeavor to enlarge the market for his tincture demanded attention to detail in distributing the product and “particular directions for using it.” He also had to cultivate relationships of trust with his local agents who represented him to distant customers. This was especially important since he depended on them exercising medical authority in their interactions with local clients. Hamilton sought to create a widely recognized brand, not unlike many patent medicines familiar to consumers throughout the British Atlantic world, but doing so required cooperation with associates and agents in faraway places.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:13:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 13, 1769).

“At Mr. JOSEPH SOLOMAN’S … in Lancaster, by the appointment of Mr. HAMILTON, Surgeon Dentist.”

At the same time that advertisements for Mr. Hamilton’s amazing tincture for curing toothaches and other maladies ran in multiple newspapers in New York in July 1769, it also appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, a newspaper published in Philadelphia with circulation far beyond that city. The copy in the Pennsylvania Gazette matched the New York advertisements almost exactly – including the guarantee of “No CURE No PAY” – except for instructions about where customers could acquire the tincture for themselves. Readers of newspapers printed in New York were directed to “Mrs. Buskirk’s, the corner of Wall-Street, near the Coffe-house,” where they could consult directly with Mr. Hamilton, “Surgeon Dentists and Operator for the Teeth from LONDON.” The variant in the Pennsylvania Gazette, on the other hand, gave directions to local agents in Pennsylvania. Readers could purchase the tincture “at Mrs. [illegible], next door to the Indian Queen, in Fourth-street, Philadelphia; and, at Mr. JOSEPH SOLOMAN’s, in King-street, near the Court-house, in Lancaster.” Purveyors of the tincture in Pennsylvania stocked and sold it “by the appointment of Mr. HAMILTON.”

Inserting advertisements in all of the newspapers published in New York was ambitious on its own, but designating local agents and branching out to yet another newspaper in another colony was even more innovative. In eighteenth-century America, most providers of goods and services confined their marketing efforts to newspapers that served their own city or town. Printers and publishers were an important exception; they frequently placed subscription notices in newspapers throughout the colonies to gauge the market and generate sufficient interest to move forward with printing a book, magazine, or other publication. This involved designating local agents to receive subscriptions, collect payment, and distribute publications after they went to press, but those agents were usually fellow printers who already participated in networks for exchanging newspapers and information. Still, this was a model that need not work for printers exclusively. Hamilton experimented with designating local agents in Philadelphia and Lancaster as a means of enlarging the market for his tincture.

Doing so required prospective customers to place trust in the local agents in addition to Hamilton, especially when it came to the “No CURE No PAY” guarantee. Clients in New York used the tincture under the direction of Hamilton and could appeal to him directly if the medicine did not produce the desired effect. Clients in Philadelphia and Lancaster, in contrast, had to depend on fair dealing by local agents who may not have possessed Hamilton’s experience or expertise. After all, the advertisement described Hamilton as a “Surgeon Dentist,” but did not indicate the occupations of his local agents in Pennsylvania. Other portions of the advertisement may have alleviated some concerns by presenting a portrait of Hamilton’s character. In addition to describing Hamilton’s tincture, the advertisement provided an overview of the services he provided in New York. Hamilton “cleans and beautifies teeth” and “makes and sets in artificial teeth.” He served his clients “with dispatch and secrecy.” The advertisement concluded with a nota bene that depicted Hamilton as a humanitarian: “the poor, afflicted with the tooth-ach, cured gratis, every morning, from 8 to 10 o clock.” Was such information about Hamilton’s practice in New York superfluous in an advertisement placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette? Readers in Philadelphia and, especially, Lancaster were unlikely to travel to New York to have Hamilton clean their teeth or fit them with artificial teeth. The poor were even less likely to make such a journey. Hamilton could have reduced the costs of advertising in the Pennsylvania Gazette if he had eliminated that portion of the advertisement, yet that information was not superfluous. It testified to Hamilton’s competence and professional demeanor, allowing him to cultivate a reputation that might have made faraway readers more inclined to trust his description of his toothache tincture and, in turn, deal with local agents who sold it on his behalf.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:10:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (July 10, 1769).

“No CURE No PAY.”

As part of his marketing efforts, Mr. Hamilton, “Surgeon Dentist and Operator for the Teeth, from LONDON,” offered prospective patients a guarantee: “No CURE No PAY.” If his tincture for toothaches did not yield the desired results by relieving the pain in just a few minutes then clients did not have to pay for Hamilton’s services. Colonial consumers were rightfully suspicious of quack doctors and remedies that seemed too good to be true, so Hamilton made a pitch intended to help prospective patients overcome their skepticism and give his tincture a chance, figuring that they did not lose anything if it did not work.

Given Hamilton’s description of his tincture and its effects, leading with the guarantee was probably a smart move. It did sound too good to be true. In addition to curing toothaches without drawing (or pulling) teeth it also “cures all disorders whatever in the mouth or gums.” For instance, after just a few applications the tincture “will fasten the teeth if ever so loose.” Hamilton also proclaimed that his tincture “will perfectly cure the scurvy in the gums” as well as prevent teeth from rotting, preserve “such as are decayed from becoming worse,” and eliminate “disagreeable smells from the breath.” But wait, there’s more! Hamilton’s amazing tincture did mote than relieve maladies of the mouth. When applied elsewhere, it had the power to “entirely remove all kinds of swellings in the cheek or pain in the ear.” It could cure violent headaches as well as “the most violent rheumatic pains in any part of the body.” Hamilton drew in patients with the promise of relieving toothaches. His guarantee covered only that service, but it opened the door for promoting his tincture for other uses. It very well could have included an ingredient that provided temporarily relief for toothaches, giving Hamilton an opportunity to make a hard sell to patients. For just “One Dollar each,” consumers could purchase Hamilton’s “valuable tincture.” If it relieved toothaches, even if only temporarily, then why not acquire a bottle to experiment with other ailments?

Hamilton went all in with this marketing strategy. In July 1769, he inserted identical advertisements trumpeting “No CURE No PAY” in all the newspapers published in New York, the New-York Chronicle, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, and the New-York Journal. Colonists who read more than one newspaper could hardly avoid Hamilton’s advertisements. Increased exposure to his promise of “No CURE No PAY” may have also played a role in convincing some prospective patients to give his tincture a try.

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.