What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof … are AGAIN requested to settle their respective Balances.”
In 1770, every issue of the Providence Gazette concluded with a colophon that informed readers that the newspaper was “Printed by JOHN CARTER, at his PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head; where Subscriptions, Advertisements, Articles, and Letters of Intelligence, &c. are received.” Like any other printer, Carter needed both subscribers and advertisers to make his newspaper a viable enterprise. Subscribers constituted the foundation, but for many printers the real money was in advertising. Neither the number of subscribers nor the number of advertisers mattered much, however, if they did not pay their bills.
Colonial printers frequently found it necessary to run notices calling on their customers to pay their debts. Carter inserted such a notice into the August 25 edition of the Providence Gazette. He proclaimed, “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof, either for the Gazette, Advertisements, or in any other Manner, are AGAIN requested to settle their respective Balances, that he may be enabled to discharge his own Contracts.” That “AGAIN” appeared in capital letters communicated Carter’s exasperation, which he further underscored in the process of threatening legal again. “Those who pay as little Regard to this as they have done to many and repeated Notices of a like Nature,” he warned, “cannot reasonably expect any further Indulgence.” He considered taking his customers to court “disagreeable” and a last resort, but something he was “compelled” to do under the circumstances. Having taken a strident tone throughout the notice, Carter attempted to conclude on a positive note. “[W]hile the Printer justly complains of those who neglect their Arrearages,” he declared, “he cannot but return his grateful Thanks to such Gentlemen as have paid him with Honour and Punctuality.” In thanking his customers who paid their bills, he also launched an implicit critique of those who had not.
Such notices were a standard feature of colonial newspapers. Like other entrepreneurs, printers extended credit to their customers but sometimes found themselves overextended or their customers too slow in settling accounts. For merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others, placing such notices represented an additional cost of doing business. Newspaper printers, on the other hand, did not incur additional expenses when running such advertisements.