February 16

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

Feb 16 - 2:16:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 16, 1770).

“A choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines.”

As was a common practice for colonial printers, Timothy Green often inserted multiple advertisements in the newspaper that he published.  The February 16, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, included two advertisements placed by Green.  One announced that he sold the “Connecticut Colony Law-Book.”  The other advised prospective customers of a “choice Collection of genuine Patent Medicines, Just come to Hand, and TO BE SOLD” by the printer. Green aimed to supplement revenues generated in his printing office.

Patent medicines might seem like unlikely merchandise for a printer to peddle, but after job printing, blanks, books, and stationery wares printers throughout the colonies advertised such nostrums and elixirs more than any other kind of goods and services.  Selling patent medicines seems to have been a side business frequently associated with printers.  In addition to advertising patent medicines in the newspapers they published, some printers also listed them in the book catalogs they distributed and in advertisements in the almanacs they printed.

Stocking and selling patent medicines may have been a relatively easy endeavor for printers.  Green marketed “Turlington’s Balsam of Life,” “Anderson’s Pills,” “Hooper’s Female Pills,” “Daffy’s Elixir,” “Dr. Hill’s Essence for Sore Eyes.” “Bateman’s Drops,” “Godfry’s Cordial,” and several other familiar medicines that purported to alleviate or eliminate specific symptoms.  Many consumers already knew the advantages of “Stoughton’s Elixir” versus “Locker’s Pills,” so Green did not have to play the role of apothecary in making recommendations.  Many patent medicines came in packaging with printed directions; Green did not have to offer instructions when he sold those items.  Printers who sold patent medicines did not take on the responsibilities associated with apothecaries.  Instead, they invited customers to participate in the eighteenth-century version of purchasing over-the-counter medications.  Selling patent medicines did not require much additional time or labor, making them attractive as an alternate source of revenue for printers who ran busy printing offices.

July 1

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

Jul 1 - 7:1:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (July 1, 1768).

The Medicines are the best in their Kind.”

Like many other eighteenth-century printers, publishers, and booksellers, Timothy Green supplemented the income he generated via newspaper subscriptions, advertising fees, job printing, and book and stationery sales by selling other items not specifically related to the book trades. In the July 1, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, he placed an advertisement announcing that he sold “An Assortment of Patent Medicines.” He then listed several remedies that would have been very familiar to colonists: “Dr. Hill’s pectoral balsam of Honey,” “Elixer Bardana,” “Anderson’s or Scotch Pills; Turlington’s genuine Balsam of Life; Bateman’s Drops; Locker’s Pills; Godfry’s Cordial; [and] Stoughton’s Stomach Elixer.” He concluded with a bouble “&c.” – the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera – to indicate that he stocked many more medicines. Green anticipated that these nostrums were so familiar to his readers and prospective customers that he did not need to explain which symptoms they cured, though he did briefly note that those who experienced rheumatism or gout should invest in in “Elixer Bardana.” He gave a slightly longer pitch for Dr. Hill’s balsam, promoting it as “a very useful Medicine in Consumptions and all Coughs and Complaints of the Breast, from whatever Cause.”

These patent medicines were brand names in England and its American colonies in the eighteenth century. They were widely available from apothecaries who specialized in compounding and selling medicines, merchants and shopkeepers who sold assortments of general merchandise, and those who followed other occupations (including printers) who sought to supplement their income. Shopkeepers and, especially, apothecaries regularly advertised that they filled orders for patent medicines that they received through the mail, making Bateman’s Drops and Godfrey’s Cordial and the rest even more widely available to colonial consumers. Realizing that he faced local and regional competition, Green offered incentives for customers to purchase their patent medicines from him. In a nota bene, he proclaimed, “The Medicines are the best in their Kind, and will be sold as low as in any retailing Store in America.” In an era of counterfeits, Green promised quality. He also addressed readers skeptical that he could match the prices of shopkeepers who sold patent medicines are part of their usual inventory or apothecaries who specialized in dispensing drugs. He prices were not merely reasonable; they were “as low as in any retailing Store in America.” Although he was a printer by trade, Green offered justifications for colonists to purchase patent medicines from him rather than others more versed in eighteenth-century medicines.

June 26

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

Jun 26 - 6:26:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (June 26, 1767).

The Subscribers are desired speedily to send for their Books.”

It took some time for Timothy Green to publish Joseph Fish’s book of nine sermons inspired by Matthew 26:18, but much of the responsibility for the delay belonged to the author. Fish continued to write, revise, and add material to the manuscript “After the Proposals for Printing these Sermons by Subscription, were sent abroad.” Six months before announcing that the book had been “JUST PUBLISH’D,” Green issued an advertisement requesting that those who accepted subscriptions forward their lists to him so he could determine how many copies to print.

In the interim, the book expanded. That, in turn, raised the cost of production and, ultimately, the retail price, even for subscribers. Earlier subscription notices marketed the book for 1 shilling and 10 pence, but the additional material made it necessary to increase the price by 4 pence to a total of 2 shillings and 2 pence if “stitch’d in blue Paper.” Reader who desired a volume “bound in Leather” rather than the basic wrapper could pay an additional shilling. Green catered to different tastes and price points.

He also realized that it was problematic to raise the price of Fish’s Sermons by nearly 20% after customers subscribed at a lower cost. To counter objections, he argued that “even with that Addition they will be uncommonly Cheap, as the Book contains upwards of 200 Pages.” (The reverend Fish might have been dismayed that the printer made an appeal to quantity over the quality of the contents.) In addition, Green reported that many others who had not previously subscribed were so keen on acquiring the book that they stood ready to purchase it at the higher price. The printer gave subscribers an opportunity to opt out by requesting that they send for their books soon. Any not claimed, he warned, would be sold to others who eagerly stood ready to purchase any surplus copies. Rather than apologize for raising the price and breaking the conditions set forth in the subscription notices, Green instead lectured subscribers. Even considering the higher price, they could hardly argue with the value, he admonished. After all, other prospective customers certainly acknowledged that this was a good deal. The original subscribers needed to obtain their copies as quickly possible or else risk losing out as others swooped in and claimed their books.

December 19

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

dec-19-12191766-new-london-gazette
New-London Gazette (December 19, 1766).

“These Sermons will be immediately committed to Press, as soon as it can be known how many are subscribed for.”

Timothy Green published this advertisement to encourage “Those Gentlemen who have kindly assisted in taking in Subscriptions for Mr Fish’s Nine Sermons” to send him a list of colonists they had signed up to purchase a copy of the book once it had been printed. He also requested that others “who incline to become subscribers” inform him “as speedy therein as possible” so he could determine “what Number of Books it will be necessary to print.”

In the eighteenth century printers published many books by subscription, limiting their risk and reducing the possibility of having so many unsold copies that they could not turn a profit on a particular publication. Printers gauged interest in proposed projects through a form of advertising known as the subscription notice, which usually announced an intended publication, indicated the price, and described its content and material aspects.

While subscription notices were often printed in newspapers alongside other advertisements, this type of marketing circulated in other ways as well. Broadsides (what we would call posters today) were displayed in printer’s shops and other places. The “Gentlemen” who assisted Green may have posted subscription notice broadsides in their shops or offices. Printers sometimes sent circular letters (what we would call junk mail today) to prospective customers they suspected would have an interest in a proposed publication. Rather than write the same letter by hand multiple times, printers much more efficiently created circular letters by setting the type, printing dozens or hundreds of the same letter, and writing in the names of intended recipients in a space left blank for the salutation. By the end of the eighteenth century, subscription notices appeared on the advertising wrappers that accompanied magazines. Enterprising printers also sometimes placed subscription notices as separate inserts in magazines before distributing them to subscribers.

Modern historians use subscription notices carefully. Just because a printer issued a subscription notice did not necessarily mean that it generated enough interest to move forward with publishing the book or other proposed work. In the case of “Mr Fish’s Nine Sermons,” however, Green did take the advertised book to press in 1767. Today’s advertisement did not include the full title of Joseph Fish’s The Church of Christ a Firm and Durable House: Shown in a Number of Sermons on Matth. XVI. 18. Upon this Rock I Will Build My Church, and the Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against It. Apparently Green’s subscription notices played a part in inciting sufficient interest to publish “Mr Fish’s Nine Sermons.”

February 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Feb 15 - 2:14:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 14, 1766).

“Ames’s Almanacks for the Present Year, to be Sold by T. Green.”

An almanac is “an annual publication containing a calendar for the coming year, the times of such events and phenomena as anniversaries, sunrises and sunsets, phases of the moon, tides, etc., and other statistical information and related topics.” In today’s society we do not see an almanac in everyone’s back pocket and purse; however back in the 1700s they were a lot more popular.

Here in the New-London Gazette, T. Green is advertising Ames’s Almanack for the “present year” which was 1766. Nathaniel Ames is considered to be the first person to publish an almanac in colonial America. The first annual publishing was done in 1725 and was published in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, until he moved to the South Shore later in his life. Ames’s Almanack was for many yeas considered the greatest with it publishing more then 60,000 copies. That’s quite a large number of copies for a colonial work. He started an industry that would spawn the likes of Poor Richard’s Almanack (Ben Franklin, 1733, Pennsylvania) and Rhode-Island Almanack (James Franklin, 1727, Rhode Island)

Almanacs were a major part of day-to-day life for people during the colonial time. They helped “everyday” people such as farmers, shopkeepers, and black/silversmiths know a little about each day. They would include astrological information, some details of the previous years weather, tide flow charts, copies of poems and stories, and historical essays. They also promoted reading throughout the countryside, and commerce for people such as T. Green. One family could purchase an almanac annually and it would give them access to literary works and a variety of useful information.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Elizabeth is correct when she notes the ubiquity of almanacs in colonial America. They were cheap print. These small, inexpensive pocket references could be found in households from the grandest to the most humble and were published locally in large numbers from an early date.

This is not the first time that an advertisement for Ames’s Almanack in the New-London Gazette has been featured by the Adverts 250 Project. In fact, it was the second advertisement I selected when this project was still confined to #Adverts250 on Twitter. This earlier advertisement demonstrates how far in advance almanacs were printed. By the end of October, Timothy Green advertised that his imprint of the almanac did not include “Some Errors which passed in the first Boston Impression” and marketed the version of Ames’s Almanack he printed as “preferable to those which are Pedled about in the neighbouring Towns.”

Oct 25 - 10:25:1765 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (October 25, 1765).

Not unlike purchasing calendars in the modern era, it is reasonable to expect that colonial consumers bought almanacs before the first of the year or as shortly thereafter as possible. To gain the full value of a calendar or an almanac requires using it throughout the entire period it covers. I previously featured an advertisement for almanacs placed three weeks into the new year. Elizabeth selected an advertisement for almanacs placed nearly seven weeks into the new year!

Jan 21 - 1:20:1766 Connecticut Courant
New-London Gazette (February 14, 1766).

What is happening here? It could be that the advertisement is filler, especially given its brevity, but it is also possible that Green ended up with a surplus and sought to continue to sell as many almanacs as possible to those who had not yet purchased them or desired additional copies. This advertisement could have been both padding that filled the page and the issue and an attempt to recoup his investment in printing Ames’s Almanack. This was the very first advertisement to appear in this issue of the New-London Gazette. Subscribers who read the news would have had to also read this advertisement to register that the advertising section had begun. Even if they did not continue with the other advertisements, at least they would have seen this one. It was the printer’s prerogative to place advertisements for his own goods and services wherever he wished in the issue.