January 4

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (January 4, 1773).

“More certificates may be seen, and any other particulars concerning them fully explained.”

Michael B. Goldthwait placed an advertisement for “Dr. KEYSER’S celebrated PILLS” in the January 4, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, yet he had little to do with generating the copy.  Instead, he republished an advertisement that previously ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  James Rivington, a printer and bookseller in New York, hawked the patent medicine to generate additional revenue.  He placed an advertisement that made a patient’s “certificate” or testimonial about the efficacy of Keyser’s pills its main focus.  Goldthwait may have worked with Rivington when he decided to reprint the advertisement in one of Boston’s newspapers.  Given the wide circulation of colonial newspapers, however, he Goldthwait may have seen Rivington’s advertisement in a copy of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that made its way to Boston and decided to appropriate it for his own use.

Goldthwait made only a few revisions to the notice before submitting it to a local printing office.  He altered the headline from “KEYSER’s PILLS” to “Dr. KEYSER’S celebrated PILLS” and streamlined the introductory paragraph that gave context for William Shipman’s testimonial, softening some of the language about the “purchase money” necessary to acquire the medicine.  The entire testimonial appeared, including Shipman’s assertion that it “is a faithful relation of my Case, and I can with an honest confidence recommend the Medicine to those who are afflicted with any Rheumatic complaints.”  Goldthwait did devise one significant embellishment.  Rivington concluded the original advertisement with an offer to provide “very satisfactory information” to anyone “desirous of enquiring further to the efficacy of this medicine,” but Goldthwait claimed that he had “more certificates” or testimonials at his shop near the Mill Bridge.  Those certificates likely included testimonials he published in an advertisement in August 1772.  Furthermore, Goldthwait could supply “other particulars” that “fully explained” those certificates.

When it came to advertisements appearing in multiple newspapers published in a town or city, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and other purveyors of goods and services often placed the same notice in more than one publication.  In terms of advertisements for consumer goods appearing in multiple newspapers published in different cities, that most often occurred with subscription notices for books, pamphlets, newspapers, and other printed materials as printers attempted to generate sufficient demand to make those ventures viable.  Apothecaries, shopkeepers, printers, and others throughout the colonies advertised Keyser’s pills, but they did not coordinate their marketing messages.  Shipman’s testimonial running in newspapers in Boston and New York was a rare instance of entrepreneurs in two towns exposing consumers to the same marketing campaign.

December 14

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 14, 1772).

“The underwritten certificate, from one well known in New-York, and now in perfect health.”

James Rivington is best remembered today as a Loyalist printer who published a newspaper during the era of the American Revolution.  Before he launches his newspapers, he often placed advertisements for “KEYSER’s PILLS” in other newspapers published in New York in the early 1770s.  Whether or not they published newspapers, printers frequently stocked patent medicines, along with books, stationery, and writing supplies, to generate additional revenues.  That being the case, colonizers would not have considered it unusual to encounter advertisements in which Rivington hawked a medicine to those afflicted with venereal disease.

In an advertisement that ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury for several weeks in late November and early December 1772, the printer advised that “Any Person desirous of being made more particularly acquainted” with the efficacy of Keyser’s Pills “than can be decently communicated in an Advertisement” could discuss the remedy with him and then “try a Method the easiest and safest, and so secret that the Patient may be cured” without anyone “harbouring the least Suspicion” of their “lamentable Circumstances.”  Yet Keyser’s Pills had an ameliorative effect on more than just venereal diseases.  Rivington devoted a section of his advertisement to how the pills had “Great Effects” on “THE RHEUMATISM” and concluded by noting that they would “cure a Negro in the worst Stage of the Yeaws.”

On December 14, Rivington placed a new version of his advertisement.  He asserted that Keyser’s Pills were so effective in alleviating “every appearance of the venereal distemper” that “persons tormented with other diseases” made “tryals” of the pills.  Those patients included William Shipman, “well known in New-York,” who “was a long time the verist of cripples” but now, as a result of taking Keyser’s Pills, was “in perfect health.”  Rivington referred readers to a “Copy of W. Shipman’s certificate” or testimonial that provided an overview of his suffering as a result of being “so violently afflicted with the rheumatism,” his disappointment with other medicines, his decision to “make trial of Dr. Keyser’s pills,” and the “suprizing relief” that he began experiencing after only two weeks.  Shipman continued taking the pills “without any other consequence but that happy one of being restored to perfect health and ease.”

Shipman’s testimonial comprised half of Rivington’s advertisement, indicating that the printer believed it would effectively market Keyser’s pills to prospective patients.  Rivington acknowledged that Shipman “took a great many of the pills, which made his cure expensive.”  Yet the effectiveness justified the expense.  The “health, strength and agility” that Shipman “now enjoys,” Rivington argued, “is an ample compensation for the purchase money.”  Consumers could acquire “boxes of Ten, Twenty, and Forty Shillings each” as they made their own “tryals” of the pills and determined how much they wished to invest.  Rivington likely intended that Shipman’s testimonial about taking the pills over a period of several months would convince customers to purchase in larger quantities in hopes of achieving the same results.

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.