August 21

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 19, 1771).

“He hath to sell also, his Royal Balsam, which is made of American produce.”

Two advertisements for patent medicines appeared among the notices in the August 21, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  In an extensive advertisement that filled an entire column and overflowed into another, William Young promoted “Dr. HILL’S AMERICAN BALSAM.”  Further down that second column, George Weed hawked his own “Royal Balsam” as well as several other nostrums that he compounded to cure “the bloody flux,” coughs, and other maladies.  Weed’s advertisement was much shorter, but the apothecary indicated that he had the capacity to publish a notice just as lengthy as the one inserted by Young.  “He hath by him,” Weed proclaimed, “a considerable number of certificates of extraordinary cures by [his medicines], which he designs to publish in a short time.”  In other words, Weed claimed to have testimonials from actual patients to disseminate among the public.

While Weed supplied a variety of powders, syrups, and tinctures, Young devoted his entire advertisement to the American Balsam.  This remedy bore that name because a physician in London produced it from “American plants, sent to England by that ingenious gentleman Mr. William Young, of Pennsylvania, Botanist to their Majesties the King and Queen of Great-Britain.”  That botanist was the son of the advertiser, whom Hill “appointed the only capital vender of [his medicine] in all America” out of gratitude “to the young gentleman.”  Hill did allow that Young could appoint “whom he pleases under him” to sell the American Balsam.  The elder Young had an exclusive franchise, but appointed local agents in Philadelphia, Germantown, Lancaster, and Wilmington.

Weed divided his advertisement into two portions.  In the first half, he proclaimed that the American Balsam, an imported medicine, “is now so well known in Pennsylvania, Maryland, &c. &c. there is no need of any further recommendation” and then described its effective use among patients in great detail anyway.  The second half consisted of a letter from Hill in which the doctor described the afflictions the medicine cured, outlined the history of its creation and refinement, and endorsed Young as his American purveyor.  Weed did not resort to such a preponderance of prose for his Royal Balsam, produced locally, or invest nearly as much in placing his much shorter advertisement, though the “certificates of extraordinary cures” that he suggested he would soon publish likely rivaled Young’s advertisement in length.  Although  they chose different marketing strategies, Weed and Young both apparently considered their methods worth the expense of placing notices in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

January 30

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (January 28, 1771).

“I think it my Duty to acquaint the Publick, that I met with a Doctor … [who] made a sound Cure of me.”

One brief advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the January 21, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazetteconsisted entirely of a testimonial by Eleanor Cooley about the medical services provided by Charles Stephen Letester of Braintree.  Physicians and purveyors of patent medicines sometimes published testimonials as portions of their newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, but rarely did they confine their advertising solely to testimonials.  Assuming that Letester and Cooley collaborated on the advertisement and Letester paid to insert it in the newspaper, he must have believed that Cooley’s testimonial was sufficient recommendation to convince prospective clients to avail themselves of his services.

WHEREAS I Eleanor Cooley,” the grateful patient declared, “have had a Burst in the Side of my Belly for Twelve Years, with a Dropsey and several other Disorders:  I think it my Duty to acquaint the Publick, that I met with a Doctor in the Town of Braintree, that with the Help of God, has made a sound Cure of me:  His Name is CHARLES STEPHEN LETESTER.”  This testimonial put Letester in competition with others who provided medical care of various sorts, including Oliver Smith.  In an advertisement almost immediately to the left of Cooley’s testimonial, Smith informed readers that he carried a “compleat Assortment of DRUGGS & MEDICINES, Imported in the last Ships from London, and warranted genuine.”  Especially for colonists who had attempted to find relief via various remedies sold by apothecaries, Cooley’s testimonial about Letester may have provided new hope sufficient to incite them to consult with the doctor.

In this instance, Letester did not recite his credentials, his training, his extensive experience, or his prominent clients, strategies often deployed by other doctors in their newspaper advertisements.  Instead, he relied on a firsthand account of his care for a single patient, one who was not famous but perhaps more relatable to prospective clients as a result.

January 13

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

South-Carolina Gazette (January 10, 1771).

“The most effectual Medicine that has ever yet been offered to the Public, for the Cure of an inveterate Scurvy.”

John Norton, surgeon and proprietor of “Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops,” and Thomas Powell, his local agent in Charleston, deployed a variety of marketing strategies in an advertisement that ran in the January 10, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  Filling almost an entire column, the advertisement included a recitation of the various maladies that the patent medicine supposedly cured, two testimonials from former patients, an overview of the patent medicine’s reputation in England and Ireland, and a notice that Powell was the only authorized seller.  Eighteenth-century advertisements for patent medicines often included one or more of these various elements, but this particular advertisement was notable for incorporating all of them.

Norton and Powell billed Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops as the “most effectual Medicine that has ever yet been offered to the Public, for the Cure of an inveterate Scurvy, Leprosy, and pimpled Faces … so as never to return again.”  In addition, the patent medicine cured sores, ulcers, and hemorrhoids, purified blood, and “prevents malignant Humours of every Kind from being thrown upon the Lungs.”  Yet that was not all, according to Norton and Powell, who proclaimed that the drops were effective “in eradicating every Disorder incident to the Human Body, proceeding from the Scurvy, or Foulness of the Blood.”

The lively commentary did not end there.  Norton and Powell inserted two testimonials, one from Joseph Feyrac, “late Lieutenant-Colonel to His Majesty’s 28th Regiment of Foot in Ireland,” and the other from John Good, “late Surgeon to His Majesty’s Sloop Ferris.”  Feyrac’s lengthy testimonial accounted for half of the advertisement.  He went into detail, describing the “Particulars of my Distemper” and other treatments he had endured.  He experienced temporary relief after consulting “an old Woman” who administered “Juice of Herbs, preceded by violent Bleedings.”  He traveled to Bath, but “found a bad Effect from the Waters.”  Feyrac described several times that he was incapacitated for a month or more.  A physician and a surgeon provided various treatments, but those also produced only temporary relief.  Feyrac was “Low in Spirits” when he happened to read one Norton’s advertisements in the English press.  He asked others who had taken Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops about their experiences, discovering that the remedy “had performed a great Number of Cures, in all the Disorders” mentioned in the advertisements.  When Feyrac took the medicine himself, he began experiencing relief within a week.  Several months later, he reported that he was “well recovered; my Strength is returned, my Spirits good.”

Good’s testimonial was much shorter, simply declaring the “valuable Drops” had “entirely cured me of a dangerous and obstinate Fistula.”  Some of the value of this testimonial no doubt derived from Good’s former service as “Surgeon to His Majesty’s Sloop Ferris.”  His own experience tending to patients likely enhanced his standing in recommending this patent medicine.  Good also framed his testimonial as a service to the public, stating that making it public “may be the Means of doing Service to the Community in general.”

Such stories contributed to the reputation Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops earned in England in Ireland.  The drops were so effective “in all Disorders occasioned by the Scurvy, that even Numbers of the Faculty” of the Corporation of Surgeons in London “have been induced to seek Relief from the known Virtues of this excellent Medicine.”  In addition, Norton brandished his credentials, stating that he “was regularly brought up in the Practice of Surgery.”  He also stated that the king had granted “His Royal Letters Patent” to Norton for “the preparing and vending” of the patent medicine.

Given the reputation and success of Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops on the other side of the Atlantic, Norton and Powell hoped to create demand in the colonies.  Their advertisement noted that Norton appointed Powell as “the sole Vendor … in the Southern Colonies of AMERICA.”  Consumers could purchase the drops “with printed Directions for using them” from Powell only.  Such exclusivity served as a form of quality control and guarded against counterfeits, increasing consumer confidence.

From descriptions of the maladies the patent medicine cured to testimonials from patients who recovered after taking the drops to commentary about their reputation, Norton and Powell provided prospective customers with a variety of reasons to purchase Maredant’s Anti-Scorbutic Drops.  They combined multiple marketing strategies into a single advertisement as they attempted to make a convincing case to consumers.

December 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (December 7, 1770).

“The late Rev. and pious Mr. Whitefield favoured the World a few years ago with his opinion of this work.”

In December 1770, John Fleeming distributed subscription notices for a publication that he described as “The First BIBLE ever printed in America.”  The proposed work included “the OLD and NEW TESTAMENTS” as well as “Annotations and Parallel Scriptures By the late Rev. SAMUEL CLARK.”  Fleeming outlined the conditions, a standard part of any subscription notice, providing an overview of the type, paper, and publication schedule.  He also offered premiums to “Booksellers, Country Traders,” and others who collected at least one dozen subscriptions on his behalf and later distributed the bibles to the subscribers.  In addition, Fleeming informed prospective subscribers that their names “will be printed” among the ancillary materials that accompanied the bible, thus testifying to their commitment to the project and their role in making it possible.

Yet Fleeming devoted the greatest portion of his subscription notice to an innovative marketing strategy.  He included a lengthy testimonial from George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  Fleeming noted that the “pious Mr. Whitefield favoured the World a few years ago with his opinion of this work, and a character of the Author,” Samuel Clark, “in a preface which he prefixed to an edition then publishing.”  Fleeming then quoted extensively from Whitefield, filling almost an entire column.  Indeed, the entire subscription notice filled two of three columns on the first page of the December 7 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.

This was yet another instance of printers and booksellers seeking to capitalize on Whitefield’s death a few months earlier on September 30.  Since that time, newspaper printers published a steady stream of articles about the minister’s death and reactions throughout the colonies.  Even as those news items slowed down, they continued to print and reprint poems that eulogized Whitefield.  Almost as soon as the public received news of the minister’s death, printers and booksellers began hawking books and hymnals written by Whitefield as well as commemorative items that memorialized the minister.  Along with publishing poems in his memory, the commodification of Whitefield’s death continued after news reached even the most distant colonies.  Mobilizing the deceased minister’s preface from another edition in order to deliver a posthumous testimonial in a subscription notice that began circulating two months after his death was another means of combining outlets for expressing grief and opportunities to generate revenues.

December 22

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

Dec 22 - 12:22:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (December 22, 1769).

“The said Watson being a stranger, the said John Champlin doth strongly recommend him.”

James Watson, a clock- and watchmaker “Late from London,” inserted am advertisement in the December 22, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette to inform prospective clients that he “hath lately removed from Mr. Robert Douglass, silver smith’s shop, to Mr. John Champlin, silver smith’s shop, near the new court house in New-London.” This was not the first time that Watson and his services appeared in the public prints. Just four months earlier Douglass ran another notice, also in the New-London Gazette, announcing that he “employs Mr. James Watson, Clock and Watch Maker, just from London.” Apparently Douglass and Watson quickly discovered some reason to go their separate ways. In the process, Watson pursued the same strategy for integrating into the local marketplace. Rather than open his own shop, he established an affiliation with another artisan already known to local consumers.

In the earlier advertisement, Douglass communicated a guarantee on behalf of the watchmaker, declaring that “Watson will Warrant his Work for Two Years.” Champlin made an even stronger statement of support for the newcomer: “The said Watson being a stranger, the said John Champlin doth strongly recommend him to all his customers or others.” Furthermore, Champlin endorsed Watson’s skill and character, asserting that he “will warrant his ability and fidelity in any thing he shall undertake in said business.” In so doing, Champlin staked his own reputation on the work that he expected Watson to undertake in his shop and the interactions he anticipated Watson would have with the clientele he had already established.

Champlin still considered Watson a newcomer or “stranger” after four months in New London. Prospective clients likely did as well, making it all the more important that Champlin vouched for Watson. Over time the watchmaker could demonstrate his skill to local consumers, but at the start he depended in part on forging relationships with local artisans who practiced affiliated trades, hoping that their clients would also become his clients.

December 7

“EQUAL, if not SUPERIOR, to any imported from ENGLAND. Witness our Hands.”

Dec 7 - 12:7:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 7, 1769).

When colonists adopted nonimportation agreements to protest duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts, many also advocated encouraging “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies. In turn, readers encountered newspaper advertisements that marketed goods made locally or elsewhere in North America rather than imported from England with greater frequency in the late 1760s. Advertisers often asserted that their domestic manufactures were equal or even superior in quality to imported goods. Some even proclaimed that reputable judges had affirmed their claims.

An advertisement that ran in the December 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette included an actual testimonial for “STEEL” (or iron) produced by Humphreys and Zane. Twenty-two residents of Philadelphia signed the testimonial, collectively endorsing Humphreys and Zane’s steel for readers. One, John Fox, even included his occupation, cutler, to give greater weight to his endorsement. As an artisan who worked with metal, he was particularly well positioned to assess the quality of steel produced locally.

The testimonial first reported that the signers had “made use” of various kinds of “COUNTRY STEEL,” having good experience with some but “a great Deal otherwise” with others. After acknowledging that some steel produced in the colonies did not meet their standards, the signers declared that “upon a late Trial of the STEEL, made by HUMPHREYS and ZANE, we have used it for different Kinds of Work; some of us have tried it in the very best of edged Tools, and do find that it is EQUAL, if not SUPERIOR, to any imported from ENGLAND.” Readers who needed to acquire steel or items made of iron did not have to sacrifice quality when choosing Humphrey and Zane’s steel or items made from it. This eliminated one of the potential pitfalls associated with encouraging domestic manufactures.

While other advertisers made general references to their domestic manufactures receiving accolades from qualified judges, Humphreys and Zane were among the first American advertisers to market their product with a testimonial. They did not ask prospective customers simply to trust their assurances concerning the quality of their product. Instead, they marshaled nearly two dozen artisans and others who staked their own reputations in promoting “STEEL, made by HUMPHREYS and ZANE.”

November 22

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

Nov 22 - 11:22:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 22, 1769).

“These pills are an infallible cure.”

An unnamed advertiser placed a notice for “Dr. HAMMOND’s SPECIFICK PILL” in the November 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, informing prospective customers that “Any person may be informed where these pills are to be sold by applying to the printer of this paper.” The advertisement listed a variety of maladies that the pills cured, including leprosy, scurvy, yaws, venereal disease, and even “pimpled faces.” The remedy was gentle, safe for “women with child, or persons of the most delicate constitutions.” The advertiser described this “new Medicine” as “one of the greatest ever offered to the Publick” and promised that they provided a “CERTAIN cure.”

All of this probably sounded too good to be true to many colonists. After all, readers regularly encountered advertisements for patent medicines in newspapers published throughout the colonies. Those who marketed pills and potions often claimed that they cured all kinds of diseases, deploying the most hyperbolic language in making their promises. To address some of the concerns of skeptics, this advertisement reported that the pills came with “printed directions, and signed by the author, Thomas Hammond, M.M. Bristol.” Furthermore, the advertisement directed “the dubious” to take into account “the great success this medicine has met with in Barbados, Jamaica, St. Kitts, and Granada,” apparently expecting that word of mouth recommendations from the Caribbean had reached colonists in Georgia. If that were not convincing enough, readers could also take into consideration “many great cures” attributed to Dr. Hammond’s pills in England “which have been continually inserted in the newspapers. Even if skeptical customers could not check those newspapers, the advertisement suggested that merely stating that such evidence existed should satisfy any concerns. Savvy customers likely remained suspicious of the claims made in the advertisement, despite the purported proof of the efficacy of Dr. Hammond’s pills, but some may have been eager enough to find some sort of relief for their symptoms that they allowed themselves to be convinced, or at least experience some hope, that the pills would indeed work for them. The many layers of claims made in the advertisement served to wear down any distrust by “the dubious,” just as similar repetitions of claims about miracle drugs sold via infomercials in the twenty-first century attempt to do for modern consumers.

September 9

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

Sep 9 - 9:9:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 9, 1769).

Recommended by the most noted and skilful Professors of Physic and Chirurgery in America.”

A curious advertisement, a testimonial of sorts, appeared in the Providence Gazette in the middle of August 1769 and then continued running for several weeks. In it, Nathaniel Ware of Wrentham, Massachusetts, informed the public had come into possession of “the celebrated Doctor Hugh Bolton’s Method of curing he most inveterate Cancers.” Yet Ware did not promote medical services that he provided. Instead, he reported that his “intimate Acquaintance with Doctor Daniel Hewes, of Mendon, Justice to the Public” had prompted him to pass along Bolton’s “efficacious” cure for cancers as well as “Doctor Bolton’s Specific for curing the Falling Sickness, and other Fits.” Ware also sang Hewes’s praises, proclaiming that he had established a remarkable reputation among his peers. “He is a Gentleman that may be safely confided in,” Ware gushed, “being recommended by the most noted and skilful Professors of Physic and Chirurgery in America, as an ingenious, skilful and successful Physician and Chirurgeon.” In addition to his abilities as physician and surgeon, Hewes was a competent midwife called to attend a “great Number of difficult Cases.” According to Ware, Hewes “has never failed of saving the Womens Lives” and, when summoned in a timely fashion, “the Childrens.” Ware expounded on Hewes’s expertise and experience at great length. Such a notable career spurred Ware to pass along Bolton’s cures “In order that [Hewes] might become universally serviceable to Mankind.”

Ware did not note that he had ever been the beneficiary of Hewes’s care, but he did testify to the reputation that the “skilful and successful Physician and Chirurgeon” had earned among patients and other doctors alike. Although Ware’s endorsement appeared to have been unsolicited by Hewes, the two men most likely coordinated its appearance in the Providence Gazette as a means of directing prospective patients to the physician in Mendon. The printer certainly did not treat Ware’s missive as a public service announcement or general interest story to insert among news items. Instead, it ran with the paid notices, funded by either Ware or Hewes or the two in combination. Hewes could have inserted an advertisement under his own name but may have opted for a testament from a third party as a better means of encouraging trust.

December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:6:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 6, 1768).

“A List of the Person’s Names may be seen affixed to the Directions.”

According to their advertisements, eighteenth-century printers and booksellers often carried at least some merchandise not related to the book trades. Throughout much of 1768 Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, attempted to supplement the revenues gained from subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing by also selling a patent medicine he imported from Long Island, New York, “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous GREAT American BALSAM.” He placed lengthy advertisements about this patent medicine in the summer; as winter arrived, he inserted shorter notices to remind readers that they could purchase this elixir “at his Printing Office in Elliott-street.”

In case prospective customers suspected that Crouch sought to clear out leftovers that had been sitting on the shelves for several months, he proclaimed that he had “A FRESH SUPPLY.” That was only the first of several appeals he made in the abbreviated version of his advertisement. He also offered a bargain, pledging that customers could acquire the nostrum for “Five Shillings cheaper than any yet sold here.”

The price did not matter, however, if the patent medicine was not effective. Crouch assured consumers that “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous GREAT American BALSAM” was “superior by Trial, for its Use and Efficacy, to any imported from Europe.” Readers did not even need to consider any of those more familiar remedies produced in London and other places on the far side of the Atlantic, not when they had access to a product produced in the colonies that was even better. Crouch did not expect prospective customers to simply take his word that others had found the potion “superior by Trial.” Instead, he reported on “surprising Cures” in both New York and South Carolina, stating that “a List of the Person’s Names may be seen affixed to the Directions.” Even if local customers did not recognize the names of any of the patients cured in New York, they were likely to be familiar with colonists from South Carolina who had benefited from “this very famous BALSAM.” In providing directions that also listed satisfied customers, Crouch deployed printed materials beyond newspaper advertising to market this patent medicine to consumers.

July 5

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

Jul 5 - 7:5:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 5, 1768).

“EDWARD JOYCE’s famous Great American BALSAM.”

Like many other colonial American printers, Charles Crouch sold patent medicines to supplement his income from newspaper publishing and job printing. The featured advertisement from just a few days ago, for instance, listed a variety of popular patent medicines – Anderson’s Pills, Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, among them – that Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette, sold. Given that each of these remedies represented a brand familiar to colonists, Green devoted little space to describing their use or the symptoms they cured. Crouch, on the other hand, stocked a patent medicine that was not nearly as well known among his prospective customers: “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous Great American BALSAM.” Placing it in the hands of readers required more promotion than usually accompanied the most established patent medicines.

Crouch first acknowledged the origins of Joyce’s Balsam, but stressed that should not cause concern. Even though it was “made in Long-Island” and shipped from New York, this remedy was “superior by Trial, for its Use and Efficacy, to any imported from Europe.” Wary readers did not have to trust solely in Crouch’s word on that count. He concluded his advertisement by stating that Joyce’s Balsam had “cured a Number of People in New-York, whose Names are affixed to the Directions.” Skeptics could examine that evidence for themselves. Furthermore, Crouch reported that a bottle had been “brougth into this Province the latter End of last Winter” and “it cured several Persons of violent Coughs, &c. which were of a long standing.” The printer suggested that potential customers could receive local confirmation of the claims transmitted from afar.

Colonists already knew the uses for patent medicines imported from England, which ones supposedly alleviated which symptoms. Since Joyce’s Balsam was much less familiar, Crouch needed to educate readers about which maladies it relieved. To that end, he devoted the vast majority of the advertisement to describing how to take Joyce’s Balsam for colds, swelling, wounds, sprains, and an assortment of other concerns. According to Crouch’s account, Joyce’s Balsam was a cure-all that could replace any variety of imported patent medicines, though he did offer a warning that it had its limits: “I don’t say that it is an infallible cure.”

Given the number of apothecaries, shopkeepers, and printers who regularly advertised patent medicines, a market for familiar imported brands already existed. Crouch, however, wanted to create a local market for a remedy produced in the American colonies. That required more extensive copy than usually accompanied the most popular patent medicines. This included not only reviewing the uses of Joyce’s Balsam but also asserting its effectiveness as a legitimate competitor “to any imported from Europe.”