October 4

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 4, 1773).

“The Printer of this Paper begs the Favour of ALL who are indebted to him for the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Advertisements, &c. to make IMMEDIATE PAYMENT.”

William Goddard exercised his prerogative as printer to place his notice first among the advertisements that appeared in the October 4, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  He placed it immediately below the shipping news from the customs house in Philadelphia, a strategy frequently deployed by colonial printers.  Even if readers only skimmed the remainder of the contents of that issue, the advertisements, once they determined that the portion devoted to news came to an end then they might give more attention to the first of the notices they encountered than any of the others.

Goddard participated in a familiar refrain among printers: “The Printer of this Paper begs the Favour of ALL who are indebted to him … to make IMMEDIATE PAYMENT.”  He made a special appeal to “his Customers who live in the Country,” whether in Pennsylvania or other colonies served by the Pennsylvania Chronicle, to “order Payment to be made in this City,” Philadelphia, “or remit the same by the first good Opportunity.”  Goddard pleaded for cooperation because “the Accounts are small and lie so wide of each other, that they cannot be collected without great Trouble and Expence.”  He implied that most overdue accounts were so small that customers would not experience any hardship in settling them, while also encouraging their cooperation in not making the process more onerous than necessary.  Stating that the accounts “lie so wide of each other” also suggested an extensive circulation for the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a factor for prospective advertisers to take into consideration when choosing which of the several newspapers published in Philadelphia should carry their notices.

Notably, Goddard addressed customers “indebted to him for the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Advertisements,” and anything else, such as books or job printing.  Historians have traditionally asserted that colonial printers struck a balance between extending credit to subscribers and requiring advertisers to pay before printing their notices, making advertising the more consistent and more significant source of revenue for printers who published newspapers.  Apparently, not all printers, however, adopted that business model.  Goddard was one of several printers who ran notices that called on both subscribers and advertisers to pay their bills.  Those printers may have been more selective in allowing credit for advertising than for subscriptions, yet their own notices indicated that they did allow credit for advertising for at least some customers. Advertising certainly had the potential to be lucrative, but only if printers required payment in advance or successfully collected payments after extending credit to advertisers.

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