October 26

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 26, 1770).

“A Sum of Money must be immediately raised to pay for Paper.”

In the eighteenth century, newspaper printers often inserted notices into their own publications to call on subscribers, advertisers, and others to pay their bills.  They were not alone in resorting to such measures.  Entrepreneurs of all sorts as well as executors of estates enlisted the aid of the public prints in instructing customers and associates to settle accounts.  Given their access to the press, however, some printers more regularly ran such notices than other colonists.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, were among the printers who most frequently made the collection of debts in the interests of continuing publication a feature of their newspaper.

The Fowles found it necessary to do so on October 26, 1770, expressing some exasperation.  “THOSE Persons who are still delinquent in discharging their Arrears for this Paper, and for Advertisements,” the printers declared, “and have been repeatedly call’d upon from Time to Time, are desir’d to comply with so reasonable a Request.”  Others who placed such notices usually threatened legal action against those who did not heed their warning.  The Fowles had done so in the past.  On one occasion they also threatened to publish a list of subscribers, advertisers, and others who did not pay their bills, though they did not follow through on that ultimatum.  In this instance, they did not deliver any threats against those in arrears but instead explained the effect that such delinquency would have on their business and, by extension, their ability to serve the community by disseminating news and other information.  The Fowles insisted that they needed to collect on debts owed to them because “a Sum of Money must be immediately raised to pay for Paper, to carry on the Business.”  Without paper, they could not continue to print and distribute the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Although the Fowles regularly inserted notices to encourage subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts, they did not merely adopt the formulaic language that often appeared in such advertisements.  Over the years, they experimented with a variety of messages and tones, sometimes threatening and sometimes cajoling, in their efforts to attract the attention of clients in arrears and convince them to pay their debts.

August 10

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

Aug 10 1770 - 8:10:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 10, 1770).

“A Settlement with the Customers is become necessary.”

In eighteenth-century America, printers, like other entrepreneurs, sometimes had to resort to publishing advertisements calling on customers to settle accounts or else face legal action.  For those who published newspapers, the anniversary of the first issue provided a convenient milestone for attempting to collect debts.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted such notices on various occasions, not only the anniversary of their newspaper’s first edition, though that event did often prompt them to remind customers to send payment.

In August 1770, the Fowles noted that it would be “Fourteen Years, next Month, since this Paper was first publish’d.”  That being the case, they reasoned that “a Settlement with the Customers is become necessary, as soon as possible.”  Those who did not comply “with so reasonable a Request” could expect to face the consequences.  The Fowles would put their subscriptions on hold instead of sending new editions, plus they would initiate legal action.  The printers argued that they provided sufficient notice for everyone who intended to pay, whether they lived in “Town or Country,” to visit the printing office or send a note.  At the very least, they requested that subscribers pay for “at least half a Year.”

Yet it was not only subscribers who were delinquent in paying.  Advertisers apparently submitted notices to the printing office and then did not pay for them in a timely manner.  For many printers who published newspapers, advertisements generated far greater revenue than subscriptions.  The Fowles asked “Those who are Indebted for Advertisements” to pay immediately.  They simultaneously informed all readers that in the future “those who send Advertisements for this Paper” must “send the Pay for them at the same time.”  Those who did not do so “must not take it amiss, if they are not publish’d.”  The printers may or may not have intended to follow through on this threat.  At one point they warned that they would publish a list of customers who owed money if they did not settle accounts in the next couple of weeks.  That list never appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It seems unlikely that everyone paid, but perhaps cajoling by the printers yielded sufficient results that they did not take the most extreme measures.

Advertisements calling on subscribers, advertisers, and other customers to settle accounts provide insights into the business practices of printers in eighteenth-century America.  They reveal that printers, like others who provided goods and services during the period, extended credit to their customers, sometimes finding themselves in difficult positions as a result.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:10:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 10, 1770).

“All Persons indebted to him, to discharge the same.”

Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, wanted to make sure that readers saw his notice calling on “all Persons indebted to him” to settle accounts before August 1, 1770.  He inserted that notice in his newspaper multiple times in June and July 1770, sometimes interspersing it with other advertisements.  That was not the case in the July 10 edition.  Instead, it was the first item on the first page, making it nearly impossible to overlook.  With the exception of the masthead, that page consisted entirely of advertisements, most of them notices that others paid to have inserted.  Even if readers opted to skip the first page in favor of seeking out the news items on the second, they were most likely to read at least a portion of Crouch’s notice.

The printer meant business.  He meant it in exercising his power over the publication to give his notice a privileged place on the page.  He also meant it in the organization of the notice.  Like many other eighteenth-century advertisements, it had more than one purpose.  Crouch called on others to discharge their debts, but he also informed the public that he “has plenty of Hands, and will undertake any Kind of Printing-Work, which will be executed with the greatest Care and utmost Dispatch, and on reasonable Terms.”  He sought orders for job printing to increase revenues (though customers may have requested credit when submitting some of those orders), but simultaneously made it clear that that collecting on debts was his primary purpose in placing the notice.  This also made it clear to new customers that he expected them to make payment in a timely manner.  He warned those who were already in arrears that if they did “not pay a due Regard to this Notice” that they “must expect he will take proper Steps to obtain Payment, tho’ the Circumstance will be disagreeable to him.”  In others words, they could expect legal action.  Crouch did not make this subtle threat out of spite or malice.  Instead, he wished “to PAY his own DEBTS” and depended on his former customers to make that possible.

The news in the July 10 edition consisted mostly of items from London along with a brief description of raising a statue of William Pitt in Charleston.  To get to that news on the inside pages, readers first had to glance at front page.  Crouch increased the likelihood that even a casual glance would include his notice by making it the lead item on the first page.

April 27

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

Apr 27 - 4:27:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 27, 1770).

“It is impossible to carry on Business without Money.”

Printers, like members of other occupations, frequently extended credit to their customers in early America.  Indeed, the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century depended on extensive networks of credit on both sides of the Atlantic.  As a result, colonial newspapers carried notices calling on consumers to settle accounts nearly often as advertisements hawking goods and services.  Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, profited from both sorts of advertisements … provided that his customers paid their bills.  He sometimes found himself in the position of placing his own notices “earnestly request[ing] all his good Friends and Customers to pay off their Accounts.”

Such was the case at the end of April 1770.  He declared it “impossible to carry on Business without Money.”  Wells offered generous terms to his “Friends and Customers,” asking them to catch up only “to the End of last Year.”  He did not call on them to pay any charges incurred in the past five months, nor did he threaten legal action.  Most similar advertisement concluded with such warning, some of them more polite than others.  Wells also challenged his customers to compare what they owed him to the magnitude of credit he extended to all of his customers.  Their “Accounts separately amount only to small Sums,” he declared, while implicitly suggesting that those small sums represented a much larger total when considered together.  Wells pleaded with customers not to dismiss the impact of settling accounts just because they considered what they owed so trifling as to not matter.  The printer issued a special appeal to “Ladies and Gentlemen in the Country” to pay for their “Gazettes, Advertisements, and other Articles,” advising that they could have “their Factors or other Friends in Town” settle accounts on their behalf.  Rather than overlook his entreaty because they lived at a distance, Wells offered a solution.  What they owed made it just as “impossible to carry on Business” as what those who resided in Charleston owed.

Like other printers, Wells frequently placed notices in his own newspaper.  Usually he advertised books and stationery, but on occasion he placed another sort of notice.  He could not continue to publish the South-Carolina and American General Gazette if “Friends and Customers” did not settle accounts.  More than any advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, or others calling on customers to pay what they owed, Wells stood to generate the most revenue from this particular advertisement, provided that his customers heeded it and submitted payment.

August 27

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

Aug 27 - 8:24:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (August 24, 1769).

“He is determined … not to import any more Goods.”

In August 1769, Joshua Lockwood promoted “A VERY neat Assortment of CLOCKS and WATCHES” that he had “just imported … from LONDON.” He also carried “a large and neat Assortment of Silver and Metal-Mounted Holster, Saddle, and Pocket-Pistols.” He was careful, however, not to run afoul of the resolutions recently adopted by merchants and traders in Charleston, a nonimportation agreement similar to those already in effect in Boston and New York. In several of the largest urban ports, colonists leveraged economic resistance to the Townshend Acts, vowing not to import a vast array of goods from Britain while Parliament levied taxes on imported paper, tea, glass, lead, and paint. For his part, Lockwood alerted the public that he “is determined, and bound by Honour, and for the Good of the Country, until the late villainous Impositions laid upon us are taken off.” The watchmaker established for prospective customers and the community that he supported the nonimportation agreement, wedding commerce and politics in his advertisement.

Lockwood joined other merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who attempted to leverage the nonimportation agreement to sway consumers with their political sentiments. Unlike others, however, he used the boycott for another purpose: calling in debts. Lockwood anticipated that the tradesmen on the other side of the Atlantic who supplied his clocks and watches would demand “a Settlement” once he suspended placing new orders. They would not extend credit indefinitely to a customer who no longer actively purchased their wares. To pay his own bills, Lockwood called on “his Friends and Customers” to settle their accounts with him. He offered several months to do so, but warned that he would sue those who were “not so kind as to comply with his Request” by the first of the year. Newspapers from New England to Georgia carried advertisements that called on colonists to pay debts or end up in court. In that regard, Lockwood’s notice was not extraordinary. Using the nonimportation agreement as a means of encouraging those who owed him money to settle accounts, on the other hand, was innovative. He sought to harness (or exploit) a political movement for the benefit of his business in a new way. Plenty of advertisers asked consumers to patronize their shops because they supported nonimportation, but they did not use the boycott as a justification for calling in debts. What were the ramifications for Lockwood? Did readers find themselves in sympathy and more inclined to pay their debts to alleviate any hardships Lockwood might face as a result of suspending his orders from Britain? Or did they question Lockwood’s commitment to making a sacrifice on behalf of the cause and resent his effort to use the nonimportation agreement as rationale for taking colonists to court?

November 18

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

Nov 18 - 11:18:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 18, 1768).

“Preparing a number more Accounts to be left with different Attorneys.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, meant business. They placed a notice in their own publication to inform subscribers, advertisers, and other customers that they needed to settle their accounts or else face the consequences. The Fowles periodically placed such notices, but they ratcheted up the rhetoric in November 1768. The printers were exasperated and they made that clear to readers.

The Fowles declared that they were “determined in a few Weeks, to publish a List of Customers … whose Accounts are of long standing.” With this warning, they offered a grace period. Those subscribers delinquent in settling their accounts could avoid public embarrassment by resolving the matter soon after this notice appeared in the newspaper. If they chose, however, not to take advantage of the grace period then they could expect to have their public shaming compounded by having “the Sum due” printed alongside their name. The printers aimed “to show how injuriously they are treated” by customers who refused to pay their bills.

Furthermore, the Fowles made it clear they were aware of some of the stratagems used by those who owed them money. “Many Customers who live in the Country,” they observed, “are often seen in Town, but if possible avoid coming to the Printing Office.” To add insult to injury, those who did visit often informed the Fowles “how they are involved in such and such a Law Suit, and that they have just paid all their Money to such a Lawyer.” The printers reasoned that two could play that game: “Therefore as they fancy paying Money to Attorneys best, we have left, and are preparing a number more Accounts to be left with different Attorneys.” The Fowles would not hesitate to take legal action if it became necessary.

They made that threat, however, only after publishing gentle reminders for customers to submit payments. Less than two months earlier, they inserted a notice that celebrated the twelfth anniversary of the New-Hampshire Gazette but also called on “a considerable Number of our Customers” to settle accounts. They considered doing so a “great Service.” Several weeks later they abandoned the language of service in favor of legal obligation. Rather than flaunting the money they spend on lawsuits against others, it was time for customers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to invest those funds in paying the printers.

September 30

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

Sep 30 - 9:30:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 30, 1768).

“This Day’s Paper compleats the Twelfth Year, since its first Publication.”

The masthead of the September 30, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette included all of the usual information. It gave the full name of the newspaper, The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle, and advised readers that it “CONTAIN[ED] the Freshest ADVICES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC.” It also included information specific to that issue, including the date, “Friday, Sept. 30, 1768,” and volume and number. It was “Vol. XII” and “Numb. 625 Weeks since this Paper was publish’d.” Only in the advertisements did Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, reveal the significance of “Numb. 625.”

“This Day’s Paper,” the Fowles announced, “compleats the Twelfth Year, since its first Publication.” Daniel Fowle had commenced publication on October 7, 1756. Unlike many other colonial newspapers, the New-Hampshire Gazette did not suspend publication during the Stamp Act was in effect, though the Fowles did remove the colophon that identified them as the printers. The New-Hampshire Gazette endured for a dozen years, through both paper shortages and political crises.

Yet the printers did not mark the occasion solely to celebrate their achievement and the impending thirteenth year of publication. They also noted that the current issue “compleats the Year also with a considerable Number of our Customers, especially those in Portsmouth, who are earnestly called upon to pay the same, which will be of great Service at this Time.” Colonial printers frequently placed notices in their own newspapers to encourage both subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts. The Fowles had done so many times before, sometimes at much greater length and with greater ferocity. They had previously advised delinquent customers that by paying their bills they could “prevent unnecessary Trouble,” hinting that legal action was the next step in resolving the situation. They were not so strident when they commemorated a significant milestone in September 1768, perhaps because they did not want to overshadow that event. Still, their livelihood – and the continuation of the New-Hampshire Gazette for another issue or another 625 issues – depended on subscribers and advertisers paying their bills.

December 22

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

Dec 22 - 12:22:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 22, 1767).

“He most earnestly intreats the Favour of all Persons indebted to him, to discharge their Arrears.”

Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, marked the completion of the second year of publication with an advertisement that called on subscribers and other “Persons indebted to him” to settle accounts so he, in turn, could pay down his own debts. His notice first appeared in the December 15, 1767, issue. It ran for four weeks, appearing immediately below the masthead as the first item in the first column on the first page in the final three issues of 1767 and the first issue of 1768. Crouch invoked his privilege as the printer to determine his advertisement’s placement on the page, choosing the spot likely to garner the most notice by those he wished to see his message and follow through on his request for payment.

The printer resorted to several tactics to encourage his debtors to “discharge their Arrears.” He emphasized that he assumed “great Expence” in publishing such a “useful and entertaining” newspaper “with Credit and Punctuality.” He offered a service to the public, and did so with competence, but that potentially put “himself and Family” at risk of “very bad Consequences” if those who owed him money did not pay as soon as possible. He also sought to downplay the amount of any particular debt, asserting that if many made small payments that the total would be sufficient for him “to discharge those Demands” against him. Considering these various appeals together, Crouch implicitly argued that the value of his newspaper amounted to much more than the small costs subscribers, advertisers, and others incurred when they did business with him.

Crouch also addressed advertisers in particular, attaching a nota bene about inserting advertisements in subsequent issues of his newspaper. First, he underscored their efficacy, assuring those who contemplated placing notices that advertising in his gazette “will certainly answer their End, as it has a very extensive Circulation.” The South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was one of three newspapers published in Charleston at the time, so Crouch needed to convince advertisers to select his newspaper instead of, or along with, the others. He also made a request for new advertisers to “be so kind as to send the CASH” when they submitted their copy, though this was not necessary if he already happened to have “an open Account.”

The continuation of advertising, along with the inclusion of other “useful and entertaining” content, depended in part on an advertisement published by the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Even as he instructed potential advertisers that inserting notices in his gazette “will certainly answer their End,” Crouch depended on that being the case for his own advertisement, trusting that it would induce his debtors to settle their accounts.

April 9

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (April 9, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD, THE one Half of a good Boat.”

In many of the newspapers I looked through for this week, the sale of ships really struck me as a common trend, including this advertisement from Woodbridge, Connecticut. That town is located next to New Haven, which is located directly on the Long Island Sound. This made is a great location for coasting into New York and doing business there. This form of commerce was part of what historians call coastal trading. Rather than investing in transatlantic voyages between the colonies and England, many merchants focused on moving goods between the colonies, up and down the North American coast. In The Economy of Colonial America, Edward J. Perkins states, “[T]he real strength of the colonial economy was its prodigious agricultural production for local consumption and urban centers. The value of good and services for strictly internal consumption outweighed by far the volume of colonial exports.”[1]

Perkins states, “Colonial shipowners were also permitted to participate fully in the empire’s North Atlantic trade. Along with shipowners in the mother country’s they enjoy protection inside the empire from competition with the Dutch, French, Spanish and other outsiders.”[2] This allowed a growing coastal trade to develop. In addition, due to limited roadways and other means of transportation on the mainland, coastal trading provided an efficient alternative for colonists to move goods and earn money.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

During the initial round of selecting advertisements to examine during her week as guest curator of the Adverts 250 Project, Shannon chose several that announced ships for sale. Among those, Isaac Donham’s notice was unique in that he sold only “one Half of a good Boat … fit for the coasting Business” rather than ownership of an entire vessel. Donham explained that the “Person that owns the other Half will settle any where the Purchaser of the above Half shall think proper.” For all intents and purposes, Donham was selling a stake in a partnership with another colonial merchant.

As Shannon explains, coastal trading offered opportunities for some colonists to acquire significant wealth, but that did not mean that anyone who dabbled in moving goods between the colonies was guaranteed financial success. Coastal traders needed to be savvy entrepreneurs – and a little bit of luck never hurt anyone pursuing business opportunities. Acquiring goods to import and export among colonies represented a significant investment itself. Many merchants paid to have their goods transported on vessels owned and operated by others who regularly advertised freight services in colonial newspapers. Some of the most affluent colonial merchants sought to reduce those expenses by investing in their own ships. For those who could not afford to do this on their own, forming a partnership with one or more other merchants became a viable alternative.

Whatever the circumstances, one of Donham’s associates found himself in over his head, unable to pay his bills. He promised that there was nothing wrong with the vessel itself (“sold for no Fault”); instead, it had been “taken for Debt.” Donham apparently did not wish to operate the vessel in partnership with the “Person that owns the other Half,” preferring to sell the stake he had acquired when seizing the ship and recoup the funds owed to him. Participating in commerce in the colonies presented many opportunities for economic advancement, but with those opportunities came risks and, sometimes, failures. The matter-of-fact language in today’s featured advertisement disguised a drama that unfolded around one unfortunate merchant, his family, and his associates.

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[1] Edward J. Perkins, The Economy of Colonial America, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia Univeristy Press, 1988), 43.

[2] Perkins, Economy of Colonial America, 41.

December 28

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

dec-28-12271766-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

“A Variety of Books and Stationary.”

Like many other colonial American printers, John Holt inserted his own advertisements into the newspaper he published. The two-page supplement to the New-York Journal from December 27, 1766, for instance, included three advertisements for “the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” None of them included Holt’s name, but that may have been less important than providing sufficient direction for current and prospective customers to make their way to Holt’s printing shop. Besides, many readers likely would have already known Holt as “the Printer at the Exchange.” For those who did not, the masthead of regular issues of the New-York Journal proclaimed that it was “PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY JOHN HOLT, NEAR THE EXCHANGE.”

Each of Holt’s advertisements in the December 27 issue addressed a different aspect of his business. One attempted to drum up new business, succinctly announcing “A Variety of Books and Stationary, to be sold at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Between subscriptions and advertisements, publishing the New-York Journal generated revenue, but Holt, like many others in his occupation, also acted as bookseller. This yielded an additional flow of income to keep the entire operation running.

dec-28-12271766-ad-2-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

Another advertisement solicited supplies necessary for the New-York Journal to continue publication. “READY MONEY,” it announced, “given for clean Linen RAGS, of any Kind, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Printers throughout the colonies frequently placed such notices. They printed their newspapers on paper made of linen. Rags were essential to their business; they were recycled and reused as paper. Holt placed this particular advertisement in the upper right corner of the second page. Except for the masthead, it included the largest font in that issue, increasing the likelihood that readers would see and take note of it.

dec-28-12271766-ad-3-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

Holt’s third advertisement addressed prior operations of his business as well as its future. In the final issue of the New-York Journal for 1766, he called on former customers to settle accounts: “ALL PERSONS who are a Year or more indebted for this Paper, and all who are on any other Account indebted to the Printer at the Exchange, are earnestly requested immediately to discharge their Accounts.” Once again, similar notices appeared in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Subscribers notoriously fell behind in paying for their newspapers. Printers extended credit for subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing of various sorts as well as the books and stationery they sold. In designing the layout for this supplemental issue, the crafty Holt placed this advertisement second, immediately after a notice listing the winning numbers for a recent lottery. He may have hoped to capture readers’ attention as they eagerly examined nearly two columns of winning tickets and moved directly to the next item.

The December 27 supplement of the New-York Journal included relatively little news. Of its six columns, only the third and fourth were given over to news items. Holt devoted the remainder of the supplement to advertising, including three advertisements that either promoted his own printing shop or saw to its general maintenance.