April 10

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

Connecticut Journal (April 10, 1772).

“The Printers hereof earnestly request all those who are indebted to them for Newspapers, Advertisements, Blanks, or in any other Way … to make speedy Payment.”

Colonial printers regularly called on customers to settle accounts, placing notices in their own newspapers for that purpose.  The appearance of those notices often coincided with an anniversary; as printers completed one year of publication and commenced another, they requested that customers make payments.  Thomas Green and Samuel Green, however, did so halfway through their fifth year of publishing the Connecticut Journal.  They inserted a notice in the April 10, 1772, edition to inform readers that “THIS Day’s Paper (No. 234) completes Four Years and an Half since the first Publication of the CONNECTICUT JOURNAL, and NEW-HAVEN POST-BOY.”  They then lamented that “many of the Subscribers for it, have not paid a single Farthing, and others are indebted for Two or Three Year’s Papers.”

The Greens focused most of their attention on subscribers who had fallen behind or never paid, but they did not limit their efforts to collecting from those customers.  Instead, they “earnestly request all those who are indebted to them for News Papers, Advertisements, Blanks, or in any other Way, (whose Accounts are of more than a Year’s standing) to make speedy Payment.”  They continued to allow credit for those whose accounts did not extend more than a year, but they wanted others to pay their bills because “Printing a Weekly News-Paper, and carrying on the other Branches of the Printing-Business is attended with great Expence.”  While some printers may have considered advertising the more significant source of revenue and required that advertisers pay for notices in advance while extending credit to subscribers, that was not always the case.  For a time in the early 1770s, the colophon for the Providence Gazette, printed by John Carter, stated that “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three weeks.”  Ebenezer Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, apparently updated his policy about paying for advertisements in advance of publication.  On February 25, 1772, he informed readers 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.”  Watson continued to accept advertisements without payment from existing customers in good standing, but no longer did so for new advertisers.  The Greens did not change their policy, but their notice did indicate that they extended credit for advertisements as well as subscriptions.  Payment in advance was not always required for publishing advertisements in early American newspapers.

February 25

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

Connecticut Courant (February 25, 1772).

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.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:10:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 10, 1767).

“All Persons, who send Advertisements to this Press, would at the same Time send pay with them.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted this notice in the final column of the July 10, 1767, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. In it, they instructed that “all Persons, who send Advertisements to this Press” should “at the same Time send pay with them.” In making this request, the Fowles addressed two common questions about eighteenth-century newspaper advertising. Who wrote the advertisements? Did printers make money from advertising?

By comparing text and typography in advertisements published in multiple newspapers, it appears that advertisers wrote the copy and printers took primary responsibility for format and layout (though some exceptional advertisers also participated in designing the visual aspects of their own notices). The Fowles seem to confirm that advertisers composed the text, though they do not address the question of layout. Advertisers possibly sent along instructions, though the printers would have preferred payment instead.

This notice does not definitively answer whether advertising turned profits for printers, but it does cast light on some of their standard practices and challenges. The Fowles threatened not to insert any advertisements delivered without payment. They were “determined not to Charge any more” because extending credit was more hassle than it was worth. They had learned through unfortunate experience “the Trouble of keeping a great number of small Accounts which but few ever think worth Discharging.”

Historians of eighteenth-century printers have long argued that newspapers did not make money from subscriptions, that profits derived from advertising. This notice, however, suggests that in some cases – or “a great number” of cases, to borrow the Fowles’ phrase – advertising was no more likely to turn a profit than selling subscriptions. Colonists purchased advertising on credit, just as they participated in the consumer revolution by buying on credit. Sometimes they paid in a timely manner, but, if the Fowles were to be believed, quite often they were delinquent in settling their accounts. Historians of print culture cannot assume that advertisements published in eighteenth-century newspapers always generated revenues for the printers.