What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Some of our Advertising Customers are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct.”
On March 1, 1771, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, once again informed delinquent subscribers that if they did not settle accounts they would find themselves facing legal action. Newspaper printers regularly made such threats, but the Fowles did so more often than most. Were they more aggressive in addressing overdue accounts? Were their customers more recalcitrant than others? Either way, they proclaimed that “Customers for this Paper, whose Accounts are of so long standing, but not sufficient for Court Writs, may depend on being sued before some Justice in Portsmouth, unless immediately paid.” The Fowles seemed especially exasperated with “those at the Eastward indebted for many Years Papers,” vowing to bring them “to a proper Sense of their Duty” when the court at York met in April “unless this last Hint Rouses them.”
In the same issue, the Fowles also inserted a brief note to current and prospective advertisers. “Some of our Advertising Customers,” the printers declared, “are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct, or an Interpreter with them.” Once again, the Fowles took an exasperated tone. That they published the only newspaper in New Hampshire may have afforded them greater latitude in doing so than their counterparts in places with multiple newspapers. They did not reveal what they found lacking in the copy advertisers submitted, only that they experienced difficulty in making sense of some of the notices they received from those who sent them by post or messenger rather than visiting the printing office to make arrangements for their publication. On occasion, newspaper printers advised prospective advertisers that they would assist with writing copy. Many other printers also may have lent an editorial eye to copy they received, helping to explain the standardized language in many advertisements. Doing so required understanding the purpose of an advertisement and clarifying the details. The Fowles suggested that some copy they received lacked a clear purpose, unambiguous details, or both.
Although printers sometimes offered assistance, advertisers possessed primary responsibility for generating copy for paid notices in eighteenth-century newspapers. The Fowles apparently expected their advertisers to refer to notices that ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette as models when composing their own advertisements. They may have performed some editorial work upon receiving copy, but the Fowles expected that advertisers would submit notices that needed little revision before publication.