What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
Like many other printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, publishers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, periodically placed notices calling on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts. Some printers tied such notices to important milestones in the publication of their newspapers. Most often they announced that a newspaper completed another full year of publication and simultaneously asked readers to mark the occasion by paying any debts that had been on the books for more than a year. Doing so allowed them to underscore the longevity of the newspaper while also collecting revenues necessary for continued operations. Rarely did they ask subscribers, advertisers, and others to bring their accounts completely up to date; instead, most printers continued to allow credit for more recent transactions.
On occasion, however, some printers did request an “[*Immediate Settlement*]” in the notices they placed in their newspapers. Such was the case in August 1771 when the Fowles asked “THOSE of our Eastern Customers, from Kittery to Falmouth, &c. who received the New Hampshire Gazette, of Mr. James Libbey, late Post Rider, deceased … to settle immediately with the Printers.” They did not ask that all customers settle accounts, only those served by the former post rider. Libbey’s death may have disrupted distribution of the New-Hampshire Gazette in eastern towns located in the portion of Massachusetts that eventually became Maine. If they were uncertain when another reliable post rider would cover the route, the Fowles may have considered the time right to get accounts in order with subscribers in that region.
To lend their request some urgency, the printers designed a headline intended to attract attention. The Fowles sometimes enclosed headlines for advertisements, especially legal notices, within brackets, a practice peculiar to their newspaper. In this instance, they supplemented brackets with asterisks to make clear that they desired an “[*Immediate Settlement*]” without delays. They deployed graphic design to distinguish their notice from others as they grappled with a transition within the operations of their printing office and the distribution of their newspapers.