What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Those Customers who live in the Country are more particularly desired to pay some Attention to the above reasonable Request.”
Extensive credit played an important role in fueling the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans all extended credit to their customers. Printers did the same, often for periods of years rather than merely weeks or months. Newspaper printers regularly inserted notices into their publications to call on subscribers, advertisers, and others to pay their debts. In some instances, they stated that their ability to continue disseminating the news depended on customers paying their overdue bills. More often, they threatened legal action against those who did not settle accounts by a specified date.
On November 26, 1770, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, once again joined the chorus of printers who inserted such notices in their newspapers. They requested that “All Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been 12 Months standing … to make immediate Payment.” Although they did not suggest taking anyone to court, they did express some exasperation with those who had not heeded previous notices. “Those Customers who live in the Country,” the Fleets implored, “are more particularly desired to pay some Attention to the above reasonable Request.”
To increase the likelihood that those customers at least saw the notice, the Fleets deployed a couple of strategies. First, they made it the first item in the first column on the first page. It appeared immediately below the masthead and immediately above news items rather than interspersed among other advertisements. Even if they only skimmed the contents to find items of interest, readers who perused that issue of the Boston Evening-Post were likely to spot the Fleets’ notice. To help call attention to it and underscore its importance, the Fleets included several manicules. A manicule on the first line directed attention to the notice. A line composed of seventeen manicules beneath the advertisement seemed to insist that readers take note of what appeared above them. Although the Fleets did not threaten to sue recalcitrant customers, they used other means to suggest they were serious about receiving overdue payments.