What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Settlement with the Customers is become necessary.”
In eighteenth-century America, printers, like other entrepreneurs, sometimes had to resort to publishing advertisements calling on customers to settle accounts or else face legal action. For those who published newspapers, the anniversary of the first issue provided a convenient milestone for attempting to collect debts. Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted such notices on various occasions, not only the anniversary of their newspaper’s first edition, though that event did often prompt them to remind customers to send payment.
In August 1770, the Fowles noted that it would be “Fourteen Years, next Month, since this Paper was first publish’d.” That being the case, they reasoned that “a Settlement with the Customers is become necessary, as soon as possible.” Those who did not comply “with so reasonable a Request” could expect to face the consequences. The Fowles would put their subscriptions on hold instead of sending new editions, plus they would initiate legal action. The printers argued that they provided sufficient notice for everyone who intended to pay, whether they lived in “Town or Country,” to visit the printing office or send a note. At the very least, they requested that subscribers pay for “at least half a Year.”
Yet it was not only subscribers who were delinquent in paying. Advertisers apparently submitted notices to the printing office and then did not pay for them in a timely manner. For many printers who published newspapers, advertisements generated far greater revenue than subscriptions. The Fowles asked “Those who are Indebted for Advertisements” to pay immediately. They simultaneously informed all readers that in the future “those who send Advertisements for this Paper” must “send the Pay for them at the same time.” Those who did not do so “must not take it amiss, if they are not publish’d.” The printers may or may not have intended to follow through on this threat. At one point they warned that they would publish a list of customers who owed money if they did not settle accounts in the next couple of weeks. That list never appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette. It seems unlikely that everyone paid, but perhaps cajoling by the printers yielded sufficient results that they did not take the most extreme measures.
Advertisements calling on subscribers, advertisers, and other customers to settle accounts provide insights into the business practices of printers in eighteenth-century America. They reveal that printers, like others who provided goods and services during the period, extended credit to their customers, sometimes finding themselves in difficult positions as a result.