What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“No Advertisements will for the future be published in this paper, without the money is first paid.”
Colonial printers frequently inserted notices into their newspapers to advise subscribers to make payments or face legal action. Usually those were empty threats. After all, printers depended on subscribers, even those who did not actually pay, to bolster circulation and, in turn, make their newspapers attractive places to run advertisements. Many historians assert that the most significant revenues associated with publishing newspapers in colonial America came from advertising rather than subscriptions. That has prompted some to assume that printers required advertisers to pay upfront even though they extended credit to subscribers. That may have often been the case, but in many of their notices printers did call on subscribers and others indebted to the printing office (perhaps including advertisers) to settle accounts.
Ebenezer Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant, inserted a notice that directly addressed paying for advertising in the February 25, 1772, edition. He advised the public that “No Advertisements will for the future be published in this paper, without the money is first paid, unless it be for such persons as have open accounts with The Printer.” In so doing, he did not invoke a blanket policy. New advertisers, perhaps colonizers unknown to Watson prior to placing advertisements in his newspaper, had to submit payment at the same time that they provided the printing office with the copy for the advertisements. Existing customers, however, those advertisers who “have open accounts,” could apparently continue to publish advertisements with the intention of paying later.
Such business practices likely differed from newspaper to newspaper. Notices published in newspapers reveal some of the particulars, but printers’ records still extant likely help to tell a more complete story. Like Watson’s notice in the Connecticut Courant, however, account books require careful examination to reconstruct relationships to determine how printers actually put policies into practice. Further investigate should incorporate working back and forth between ledgers and newspapers to compare dates advertisers made payments and dates their notices appeared in the public prints.