What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“All Persons, who send Advertisements to this Press, would at the same Time send pay with them.”
Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted this notice in the final column of the July 10, 1767, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. In it, they instructed that “all Persons, who send Advertisements to this Press” should “at the same Time send pay with them.” In making this request, the Fowles addressed two common questions about eighteenth-century newspaper advertising. Who wrote the advertisements? Did printers make money from advertising?
By comparing text and typography in advertisements published in multiple newspapers, it appears that advertisers wrote the copy and printers took primary responsibility for format and layout (though some exceptional advertisers also participated in designing the visual aspects of their own notices). The Fowles seem to confirm that advertisers composed the text, though they do not address the question of layout. Advertisers possibly sent along instructions, though the printers would have preferred payment instead.
This notice does not definitively answer whether advertising turned profits for printers, but it does cast light on some of their standard practices and challenges. The Fowles threatened not to insert any advertisements delivered without payment. They were “determined not to Charge any more” because extending credit was more hassle than it was worth. They had learned through unfortunate experience “the Trouble of keeping a great number of small Accounts which but few ever think worth Discharging.”
Historians of eighteenth-century printers have long argued that newspapers did not make money from subscriptions, that profits derived from advertising. This notice, however, suggests that in some cases – or “a great number” of cases, to borrow the Fowles’ phrase – advertising was no more likely to turn a profit than selling subscriptions. Colonists purchased advertising on credit, just as they participated in the consumer revolution by buying on credit. Sometimes they paid in a timely manner, but, if the Fowles were to be believed, quite often they were delinquent in settling their accounts. Historians of print culture cannot assume that advertisements published in eighteenth-century newspapers always generated revenues for the printers.