October 26

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 26, 1772).

“JAMES RIVINGTON Takes Leave to exhibit a second Advertisement of Articles just imported in the Rose.”

Bookseller and shopkeeper James Rivington placed two advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercuryafter receiving new inventory via the Rose in the fall of 1772.  In the first, he listed dozens of titles, including “Grotius on War and Peace,” “a new Edition of Salmon’s Geographical Grammar,” and “the whole Works of the inimitable Painter Hogarth, in one Volume, with all the Plates he published.”  In addition, he stocked “a fine Assortment of venerable Law Books,” “a fine Assortment of Classicks,” and magazines published in London.  Like so many other newspaper notices placed by booksellers, Rivington’s advertisement served as a book catalog adapted to a different format.

Rivington devoted his second advertisement to other merchandise, stating that he “Takes Leave to exhibit” an additional entry in the public prints to advise prospective customers about “Articles just imported in the Rose, Capt. Miller, different from his literary Exhibition of this Day.”  That advertisement featured a variety of items and marketing strategies.  In a single paragraph, it had sections for musical instruments, patent medicines, clothing, and swords for “Those Gentlemen who propose to take the Field.”

Rather than merely list the patent medicines, Rivington inserted testimonials to assure consumers they were authentic: “Turlington’s Balsam: We certify that the Balsam advertised and sold by Mr. James Rivington, is the genuine sort purchased from us, made from the Receipt left by Mr. Turlington, to us, MARY WRAY, MARY TAPP.”  Similarly, prospective customers interested in “Anderson’s Scots Pills” did not need to worry about counterfeits.  Another testimonial stated, “I do certify that the Scot’s Pills sold by Mr. Rivington of New-York, are genuine, INGLIS.”  The layout of the advertisement did not call particular attention to these testimonials, but readers expecting a list of merchandise likely noted that Rivington departed from the usual format.

Rivington also devised a section about “elegant small Swords of all kinds.”  He listed several varieties, including “Cutteaus De Chase, Seymaters, Light Infantry, Cut and Thrust, &c.”  He concluded with the common abbreviation for et cetera to suggest that he carried even more swords.  To entice customers to examine the swords, he proclaimed that they were “the most beautiful … that ever were offered to Sale in this City.”  Rivington anticipated that customers interested in “superfine ribb’d Worsted Stockings for the wear of Gentlemen, of the best and newest Fashions” in another section of the advertisement would desire attractive swords that enhanced their attire.

A newspaper advertisement did not provide sufficient space for Rivington to tout all of his wares.  He concluded with a note that he “has many more Articles, of which a Catalogue is printing.”  Did that catalog provide commentary about any of those goods, whether blurbs about the clothing, swords, and musical instruments or additional testimonials about the patent medicines?  In a third advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the October 26, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Rivington included a testimonial about the “PATENT SHOT” he sold.  With more space available in a catalog, he may have elaborated on some of his merchandise in greater detail.

March 12

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (March 12, 1772).

The case and cure of Thomas Hewitt, sent to the Proprietor.”

An advertisement for Maredant’s Drops, a patent medicine, in the March 12, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazetteconsisted almost entirely of testimonials from patients who claimed that it cured impurities of the blood, scurvy, ulcers, “long continued inflammations of the eyes,” and a variety of other maladies.  Nicholas Brooks sold Maredant’s Drops at his shop on Market Street in Philadelphia.  In his advertisement, he directed prospective customers to visit in order to examine “the cases of the following persons, and many others, cured by Maredant’s drops.”  He listed several individuals, including “Joseph Feyrac, Esq; lately Lieutenant-Colonel in the 18th regiment of foot,” “Mr. Stoddard, brewer, Mr. Thomas Forrest, Attorney,” and “John Good, late surgeon to his Majesty’s sloop Ferrit.”  Brooks anticipated that the volume of testimonials would convince colonizers to take a chance on the patent medicines to see if they would benefit from similar results.

The shopkeeper noted that the patent medicine “may be taken in any season, without the least inconvenience or hindrance from business.”  In addition, this nostrum would “perfect digestion, and amazingly create an appetite.”  He did not say much else about Maredant’s Drops, but instead relied on two testimonials inserted in the advertisement.  In the first, dated “Kilkenny, June 25, 1771,” Thomas Hewitt explained that twenty years earlier he “was afflicted with a most violent scurvy” in his arms that eventually led to “large ulcers and blotches” on his face.  He consulted “several eminent physicians, and tried various medicines, prescribed by them, to little or no effect.”  Other residents of Kilkenny, where Hewitt lived for more than thirty years, could confirm that was the case.  Eventually, Hewitt saw Maredant’s Drops advertised by a printer in Kilkenny.  He purchased four bottles.  The medicine “quite restored” his appetite and the scurvy “gradually left [his] face, and all parts of [his] body.”  Hewitt declared himself “perfectly cured.”  The mayor of Kilkenny co-signed Hewitt’s testimonial to “certify the above case to be a fact.”

In another testimonial, Charles Ashley, an innkeeper, described the misfortunes of his son, afflicted with “the King’s evil” (scrofula, a form of tuberculosis) after surviving smallpox.  His son “was in so much misery, and without hopes of recovery” that Ashley “despaired of his life.”  When Ashley’s son recovered upon taking the “most excellent drops,” the innkeeper felt such “gratitude for so extraordinary a cure” that he “desired this to be made public.”  Furthermore, he invited readers to call at his house, “the Talbot inn, in the Strand,” to learn more and “see the child” for themselves.  Brooks apparently believed that he did not need to say more about Maredant’s Drops.  He depended on the testimonials to do all the necessary marketing.