February 17

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 17, 1769).

“ALL Persons Indebted to the Printers hereof are desired to make immediate payment.”

Like many colonial printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted their own notices in the newspaper they published. The February 17, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included three advertisements placed by the printers. One announced, “RAGS Taken in at the Printing-Office as usual, in case they are white and clean.” The Fowles collected linen rags to manufacture into paper. For several weeks earlier in the year they had printed the New-Hampshire Gazette on smaller sheets because their paper supply had been disrupted. They refused to purchase imported paper because doing so would have required paying duties levied by the Townshend Act. Instead, the Fowles waited on supplier in New England to produce more paper, choosing temporarily to print their newspaper on smaller sheets. By February the New-Hampshire Gazette had returned to its usual size, but the Fowles continued to advertise for rags in order to maintain access to paper produced in New England.

In another advertisement the Fowles marketed goods they offered for sale: “BLANKS of all sorts, and a great variety of BOOKS, are sold at the Printing-Office.” Selling books and job printing for blanks (or printed forms) supplemented the revenues gained from newspaper subscriptions and advertising fees, especially when subscribers and advertisers did not settle their accounts in a timely manner. The Fowles’s third advertisement addressed that situation: “ALL Persons Indebted to the Printers hereof are desired to make immediate payment.—Some of those whose Accounts are of long standing will very soon be put in Suit, unless speedily Settled.” This was a constant refrain for many colonial printers, especially the Fowles. Three months earlier they had published a similar message, though they had been much more strident in their threats of legal action. They also made another threat, one that went beyond the usual means of cajoling recalcitrant subscriber to pay their bills. The Fowles declared that would “publish a List of those Customers … whose Accounts are of long standing, with the Sum due.” The printers did not follow through on this extraordinary plan. Perhaps it convinced a sufficient number of customers to settle their accounts, or maybe the Fowles decided that such a public shaming of their customers would have a significant negative impact on their business.

Either way, they soon found themselves once again placing a notice in their newspaper to instruct their subscribers to make payment or else face the consequences. Their advertisements not only looked to the future of their business, such as their call for rags to make paper or the books and blanks they provided for sale, but also played an important role in concluding transactions previously initiated.

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