What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Such as are indebted to the Printer for advertising … are requested to discharge their Accounts.”
In the colophon that appeared at the bottom of the final page of each issue of the Providence Gazette, John Carter offered a variety of services, asserting that “all Manner of Printing-Work is performed with Care and Expedition” in his printing office and “Hand-Bills in particular done in a neat and correct Manner, at a very short Notice, and on reasonable Terms.” Even as he attempted to generate new business, he inserted notices calling on customers to pay their bills. Throughout the colonies, newspaper printers regularly placed such notices after extending credit to subscribers and other customers. Some subscribers fell years behind on settling accounts, but they were not alone in failing to make payment to printers.
In a notice in the August 15, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette, Carter declared that “THE Subscribers to this Gazette, who are one or more Years in Arrear, likewise such as are indebted to the Printer for advertising, or in any other Manner (particularly those who have been repeatedly called on) are requested to discharge their Accounts, that he may be enabled to pay his own Debts.” This notice merits particular attention because Carter included advertising among the unpaid bills. Similar notices usually addressed subscribers as well as customers who engaged other services, but they did not identify advertising as one of those services. That suggests that printers did not allow credit for advertising, choosing instead to build their subscription lists via extensive credit while generating significant revenue from advertisers who paid in advance. That was indeed the practice adopted by some colonial printers. It was even Carter’s policy at one point. In February 1771, the colophon for the Providence Gazette advised readers that “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings.” That line subsequently disappeared from the colophon and Carter apparently accepted advertisements without “the Pay.” Other printers experienced similar difficulties with overdue payments for advertising, including the printers of the Connecticut Courant, the Connecticut Journal, and the New-Hampshire Gazette. Even if most printers did demand payment for advertisements before running them in their newspapers, that does not seem to have been a practice adopted universally in colonial America.