What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“ALL Persons indebted … for News-Papers, Advertisements, &c. are requested to make immediate Payment.”
Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, inserted a notice in the February 9, 1773, edition that called on his customers to pay their bills. “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof,” Crouch stated, “for News-Papers, Advertisements, &c. are requested to make immediate Payment, as he is in REAL Want of his Money.” Throughout the colonies, printers frequently ran similar advertisements in their newspapers, often going into much greater detail. Some printers invoked significant dates when they asked subscribers and others to settle accounts, especially the anniversary of the founding of their publication. When they commenced a new year of printing and distributing their newspapers, they considered it a good time for customers to catch up on their payments. Many threatened to sue, giving recalcitrant customers a deadline for paying their bills before handing the matter over to an attorney. Some outlined the significant expenses they incurred in publishing newspapers. Others underscored the value that the entire community derived from access to the news, those “freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic” promoted in so many mastheads.
Crouch was not nearly as elaborate as other printers. Beyond stating that he “is in REAL Want of his Money,” he did not offer other details. His notice differed from many, but not all, others in another significant way. He called on those who owed money “for News-Papers, Advertisements, &c.” rather than addressing subscribers. Historians have often asserted that eighteenth-century printers extended generous credit to subscribers (which explains the frequency that similar notices appeared) while requiring advertisers to pay in advance. Advertising thus represented an important revenue stream that allowed printers to continue publication, even when they did not follow through on threats of legal action against subscribers who neglected to pay. As I have examined newspapers from the late 1760s and early 1770s for daily entries for the Adverts 250 Project, however, I have encountered notices in which various printers have named advertisers alongside subscribers when they called on customers to pay what they owed. In some similar instances, they seemed to establish new policies, indicating that they previously allowed credit for advertising but planned to discontinue doing so. Advertisers needed to submit payment along with their advertising copy.
In this instance, Crouch apparently allowed credit for newspapers, advertisements, and goods and services available at his printing office. The “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) likely included “all Manner of Printing Work” mentioned in the newspaper’s colophon. That could range from handbills and broadsides to printed blanks and circular letters to other sorts of job printing. It may have also included books, prints, and patent medicines since printers often created supplement revenue streams by peddling those items. According to Crouch’s notice, he did not make some sort of exception when it came to advertisements and credit. Instead, he allowed advertisers access to the public prints with promises to pay later.