What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“They shall be under the necessity of reducing it to its original size and price, unless the Subscribers for it, are more punctual in their payments.”
On April 17, 1772, Thomas Green and Samuel Green began printing the Connecticut Journal on larger sheets. That allowed them to deliver more content to their subscribers, meeting the demand of “many of our Customers, and others, … desirous of having [the newspaper] enlarged.” When they did so, they also noted that the previous edition “completed Four Years and an Half since the first Publication” of the newspaper, yet many of the subscribers “paid not a single Farthing” during that time and others were “indebted for Two or Three Year’s Papers.” The printers called on anyone who owed for newspapers, advertisements, printed blanks, or anything else “to make speedy Payment.”
Almost a year later, the Greens made similar pleas. On April 2, 1773, they declared, “The Printers are sorry, they can with truth inform the Public, That they have not for this year past, received from all the Customers for this Journal, so much money as they have expended for the blank paper, on which it has been printed.” Colonial printers often lamented that subscribers and others did not pay their bills, but few did so in such stark terms. The Greens noted that the “next week’s paper … completes one year since its enlargement,” a benefit to subscribers that accrued even greater expenses for the printers. That benefit would not continue, the Greens warned, if subscribers did not settle accounts. They proclaimed that “they shall be under the necessity of reducing it to its original size and price, unless the Subscribers for it, are more punctual in their payments.” Other printers often threatened to take legal action against recalcitrant subscribers to force them to pay what they owed. The Greens, on the other hand, threatened other consequences that would have an impact on all readers, not just those taken to court.
Whether it involved suing subscribers or publishing the names of those who refused to pay, printers usually did not follow through on their threats. Whether or not the Greens’ notice prompted some subscribers to submit payment, the printers did not opt to revert to the original size of the newspaper. Through experience, many readers likely believed that they could ignore such notices from the printers without suffering any consequences. Printers wished to maintain robust circulations so they could sell advertising, a factor that played a role in their decisions about how to handle difficult subscribers.