What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Those indebted for advertising, or in any other Manner, are likewise requested to pay.”
Like many other colonial printers, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, published advertisements in his own newspaper. Many of those notices concerned additional revenue streams. For instance, in the November 6, 1773, edition, Carter ran an advertisement that promoted “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR LADY’S and GENTLEMAN’S DIARY, For the Year of our LORD, 1774,” offering to sell the popular pamphlet “in large or small Quantities.” For many years, Benjamin West, a mathematician and astronomer, collaborated with Carter in publishing and marketing an almanac. Another advertisement drew attention to a different project undertaken by Carter, a local edition of Daniel Fenning’s Universal Spelling-Book. The printer proclaimed that he sold this reprint “Cheaper by the Dozen than any imported.” A third advertisement hawked “BLANKS [or printed forms] of various Kinds,” another common source of revenue for printers.
In addition to notices about other goods and services available in their printing offices, printers also placed advertisements that tended to the business of publishing their newspapers. In the same issue that carried advertisements for the almanac, the spelling book, and blanks, Carter inserted a notice to inform readers that “THIS DAY’s GAZETTE closes the Year with ALL the old Subscribers.” That being the case, “the Printer therefore earnestly intreats of every one in Arrear to make immediate Payment.” He did not, however, address only subscribers. “Those indebted for advertising, or in any other Manner,” Carter continued, “are likewise requested to pay.” That notice reveals an important aspect of how Carter ran his business. Many historians of the early American press have asserted that printers extended to credit to subscribers, sometimes allowing them to fall behind in payments over several years, but insisted that advertisers had to pay for their notices in advance. The advertising revenue supposedly amounted to more than the overdue subscriptions. Yet some colonial printers published notices indicating that they did indeed allow credit for advertisements as well as subscriptions. The Adverts 250 Project compiles such advertisements to demonstrate that practices in printing offices throughout the colonies varied when it came to paying upfront for advertisements. Even if most printers did insist on payment in advance, a significant minority adopted other policies.