February 17

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

Pennsylvania Packet (February 17, 1772).

“The only true and genuine sort … is sealed with my seal and coat of arms.”

Beware of counterfeiters!  So warned Thomas Anderton in his advertisement for “TURLINGTON’s BALSAM OF LIFE; OR THE TRUE AMERICAN BALSAM.”  Anderton proclaimed that this patent medicine was recognized among Europeans, Americans, and “West-Indians” for its “true merit, of universal experience, utility and reputation,” superior to “all the other known Balsams.”  Continuing with the superlatives, Anderton trumpeted that Turlington’s Balsam of Life was “the best adapted in all cases, in every climate, to relieve the various ailments and diseases of the human body … that pharmacy, since the creation of the world, has produced.”  Tending to the quality of the product he marketed, Anderton asserted that he “faithfully prepared” the balsam “from a true copy of the original receipt, taken out of the Chancery-office, in London, where it is recorded on oath, when the patent was granted.”

Anderton claimed an exclusive right to produce and sell this extraordinary medicine in the colonies, yet that did not prevent others from distributing counterfeits.  He explained how consumers could distinguish the authentic balsam from imposters “which are to be met with every where.”  Those produced by Anderton were “sealed with my seal and coat of arms, and the direction bill given with each bottle is signed with my name in my own hand writing.”  Armed with that information, discerning customers could avoid being fooled by unscrupulous vendors who passed off inferior medicines as authentic Turlington’s Balsam of Life.  Some “very modest counterfeiters,” like Martha Wray and Mary Sopp, provided “direction bills” with the medicines they sold, but, according to Anderton, they “conscientiously avoid forging the proprietors names.”  Others, however, were more sophisticated in their efforts to hoodwink consumers.  They engaged in “forgery in a gross degree,” aided by “Printers and Engravers that have been employed to counterfeit the direction and seals.”  Anderton pledged to expose everyone involved, including “venders of such counterfeit rubbish,” at a later time, but for the moment warned consumers to be wary of products purported to be authentic Turlington’s Balsam of Life.  In exercising caution, consumers could safeguard their own purchases to their own benefit as well as prevent further injustices to the producer of the “TRUE AMERICAN BALSAM.”

June 3

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

Boston-Gazette (June 3, 1771).

“It is also by special appointment sold by Mr. Daniel Martin, in Boston.”

Many patent medicines were widely available from apothecaries, shopkeepers, and even printers throughout the American colonies.  From New England to Georgia, newspaper advertisements listed popular remedies, including Stoughton’s Elixir, Bateman’s Drops, and Hooper’s Pills.  Consumers recognized the various brands and understood which symptoms each supposedly relieved without encountering additional information in the advertisements.

Other patent medicines, however, were not as widely available.  Such was the case for the “GREAT AND LEARNED DOCTOR SANXAY’s IMPERIAL GOLDEN DROPS,” the subject of a lengthy advertisement in the June 3, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  The Imperial Golden Drops required greater elaboration since they were not as widely familiar to consumers as many other medicines.  The advertisement explained that the Imperial Golden Drops “are composed from the finest essence of the richest gums and balsams of the east and west parts of the world; therefore, this Medicine is truly the Balsam of all the other known balsams.”  The advertisement claimed that this restorative could “fortify the weak & enfeebled parts; to give health, strength and vigour to a worn-out constitution.”  The Imperial Golden Drops aided with “rheumatic and gravelly complaints” as well as “barrenness and sterility in women, & impotency in men.”

Consumers could not acquire this nostrum in just any shop in the colonies.  Instead, it was exclusively available from a select few vendors.  Thomas Anderton, a bookseller in Philadelphia, began advertising the Imperial Golden Drops in January 1771.  According to his advertisement in the January 31 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Anderton supplied customers to the south via “WILLIAM DIELEY, Post-rider, from Philadelphia to Virginia” and “Mr. BALL, the sign of the White Horse, in Annapolis.”  Several months later, Daniel Martin supplied the Imperial Golden Drops to consumers in Boston.  Martin reprinted Anderton’s advertisement that first ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 18, adding an additional headline and a final note.  The headline proclaimed, “Sold by DANIEL MARTIN,” and listed the price before transitioning to the copy originally printed in other newspapers.  That copy included a short paragraph identifying Anderton as the supplier.  It also warned against counterfeits, noting that Anderton “hath sealed the bottle with his coat of arms, and signed each bottle in his own hand writing.”  For local customers, Martin added a brief note: “It is also by special appointment sold by Mr. Daniel Martin, in Boston.”

Apothecaries and other retailers in Boston marketed a variety of patent medicines found in shops throughout the colonies, but Martin provided access to an elixir not stocked elsewhere in the city.  His “special appointment” to sell the Imperial Golden Drops in New England made him the sole vendor of a patent medicine billed as “the greatest … medicine ever produced.”  Martin likely hoped that such exclusivity generated demand and added value to the unique product he hawked to prospective patients in Boston and surrounding towns.