What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Those Persons who are Indebted for this PAPER, are desired to settle within the Month.”
Throughout the colonies, printers regularly placed notices in their newspapers calling on subscribers and other customers to settler accounts. Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, ran such a notice on July 24, 1772. The use of italics set their notice apart from others in the same issue drawing attention to their declaration that “The Subscribers to this paper, who are one year or more in arrear, and those who are in any other manner indebted to the printers, are requested to discharge their accounts immediately.” Newspaper subscribers notoriously neglected to make payments. Printers often threatened legal action, but usually did not follow through on those threats, perhaps because maintaining robust circulation, even among subscribers who did not pay, helped attract advertisements. Advertising represented a significant revenue stream for many colonial printers.
On the same day that the Greens ran their notice, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, placed a similar announcement in the New-Hampshire Gazette. They advised that “Those Persons who are Indebted for this PAPER, are desired to settle within the Month of August next,—and as many pay off as can.—They who cannot pay the whole, may give their Notes for the Remainder, as there is a Necessity for a Settlement as soon as possible.” The Fowles did not elaborate on what constituted a “Necessity,” nor did they make any threats against those who ignored their notice. On other occasions, they warned that they would sue recalcitrant subscribers or even publish their names to shame them in front of the rest of the community. No list of delinquent subscribers appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Like the Greens who placed their notes in italics, the Fowles devised a means of calling attention to their notice. They enclosed it in a border composed of printing ornaments, the only item in that issue to receive such treatment.
Printers and subscribers engaged in an ongoing battle of wills in colonial America. Subscribers did not pay for their newspapers, prompting printers to suggest that they would sue their customers. They sometimes implied that they could not continue publication if they did not receive payments, which may have been what the Fowles intended when they referred to the “Necessity” of subscribers settling accounts. Printers cajoled subscribers in a variety ways, their notices frequently receiving privileged treatment in the newspapers they published.