What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“ALL Persons who may favour the Printer of this Gazette with their Advertisements, are requested to send the CASH with them.”
Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, seemed to do good business when it came to advertising. Dozens of advertisements, including sixteen about enslaved people, filled seven of the twelve columns in the June 1, 1773, edition of his newspaper. Yet the advertising revenues may not have been as robust as they appeared from merely looking at the contents on the page.
The printer commenced the portion of the issue devoted to advertising with his own notice. “ALL Persons who may favour the Printer of this Gazette with their Advertisements,” he declared, “are requested to send the CASH with them, except where he owes Money, or has a running Account.” Crouch suggested that this arrangement “will prevent disagreeable Circumstances, as well as Trouble.” He apparently experienced some “disagreeable Circumstances” a few months earlier when he ran a notice that called on “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof, for News-Papers, Advertisements, &c. … to make immediate Payment, as he is in REAL Want of his Money.”
Historians have often asserted that colonial printers maintained a balance in their accounts by extending credit to subscribers while requiring advertisers to pay in advance. Accordingly, advertising became the more important revenue stream. Notices like those placed by Crouch, however, suggest more complex arrangements, at least in some printing offices. Both of the notices that Crouch placed in 1773 indicate that he sometimes published advertisements submitted to his office without payment, though he revised that practice as a result of some advertisers becoming as notoriously delinquent in settling accounts as many subscribers.
Crouch and other printers sometimes described such situations in the notices they placed in their own newspapers, though not as frequently as printers placed notices calling on subscribers to make payments. These instances refine our understanding of the significance of advertising revenue to colonial printers without upending the common narrative. It appears that some printers exercised a degree of flexibility, even if they eventually adjusted their practices, when it came to submitting the fees along with the advertising copy.