What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Our Customers are very willing their Papers should be read … by any Person who will be so kind as to forward them.”
Newspapers stolen before subscribers read them: the problem dates back to the eighteenth century … and probably even earlier. It became such an issue in Massachusetts in the summer of 1773 that Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, the printers of the Essex Gazette, inserted a notice addressing the situation. The printers recognized that many subscribers who lived outside Salem “depend upon receiving their Papers by transient Conveyance” or by indirect means as postriders and others delivered bundles of letters and newspapers to designated locations, such as taverns or shops, with the expectation that members of those communities would then distribute the items to the intended recipients.
The Halls expressed their appreciation to “any Persons for their Favours in forwarding any Bundles to the respective Persons and Places that they are directed to.” They also acknowledged that their “our Customers are very willing their Papers should be read, after the Bundles are opened, by any Person who will be so kind as to forward them to their Owners in due Season.” However, all too often that did not happen. Those who should have felt obliged to see that the newspapers reached the subscribers, especially after they read someone else’s newspaper for free, waited too long to do so or set them aside and forgot about them completely. That being the case, the printers “earnestly” requested that “those who have heretofore taken up Paper only for their own Perusal, and afterwards thrown them by, or not taken any Care to send them to those who pay for them, would be so kind as not to take up any more.” Instead, they should “leave them to the Care of those who are more kindly disposed” to see them delivered to the subscribers.
To make the point to those most in the need of reading it, the Halls declared that they “had the Names of some (living in Andover) … who, after having taken up and perused the Papers, and kept them several Days, were at last ashamed to deliver them to the Owners.” The printers, as well the subscribers, considered this practice “very ungenerous.” The Halls made a point of advising the culprits that they were aware of who read the newspapers without forwarding them to the subscribers. They hoped that an intervention that did not involve naming names or directly contacting the perpetrators would be sufficient in altering such behavior. They did not scold the offenders for reading the newspapers without subscribing. Indeed, they framed that practice as something printers expected, but they did remind those readers that such generosity did not deserve the “very ungenerous” habit of hoarding and disposing of newspapers instead of forwarding them to the subscribers in a timely manner. This was one of many challenges that colonial printers encountered in maintaining an infrastructure for disseminating information.