What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store.”
The colophon on the final page of the Pennsylvania Journal stated that the newspapers was “Printed and Sold byWILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD, at the Corner of Front and Market-Streets” in Philadelphia. Like other eighteenth-century printers, the Bradfords cultivated multiple revenue streams. They sold subscriptions and advertising space in the Pennsylvania Journal, did job printing, and sold books and stationery wares. They also peddled patent medicines, another supplementary enterprise undertaken by many printer-booksellers. An eighteenth-century version of over-the-counter medications, patent medicines likely yielded additional revenue without requiring significant time, labor, or expertise from those who worked in printing offices and book stores.
In a brief advertisement in the March 1, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the Bradfords informed prospective customers that they carried patent medicines: “A few Bottles of MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store of William and Thomas Bradford.” Once again, the Bradfords followed a precedent set by other eighteenth-century printers, exercising their privilege as publishers of a newspaper to use it to incite demand for other goods they offered for sale. Yet they did not merely set aside space that might otherwise have been used for either news for subscribers or notices placed by paying customers.
It appears that the Bradfords may have engineered the placement of their advertisement for patent medicines on the page. It ran immediately below a lengthy advertisement for “YELLOW SPRINGS,” a property for sale in Chester County. The notice proclaimed that the “Medicinal virtues of the springs … for the cure of many disorders inwardly and outwardly are so well known to the public, that it is thought unnecessary to mention them here.” The advertisement than offered descriptions of the springs and the buildings and baths constructed to take advantage of their palliative qualities.
That advertisement primed readers of the Pennsylvania Journal to think about health and their own maladies. Most were unlikely to travel to Yellow Springs, much less purchase the property, yet patent medicines were within easy reach. Compositors often placed shorter advertisements for other goods and services offered by printers at the bottom of the column, filling in leftover space. That the Bradfords’ advertisement appeared in the middle of a column, immediately below the advertisement for Yellow Springs, suggests that someone in the printing office made a savvy decision about where to place the two advertisements in relation to each other.