August 30

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (August 30, 1771).

“[*Immediate Settlement*]”

Like many other printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, publishers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, periodically placed notices calling on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts.  Some printers tied such notices to important milestones in the publication of their newspapers.  Most often they announced that a newspaper completed another full year of publication and simultaneously asked readers to mark the occasion by paying any debts that had been on the books for more than a year.  Doing so allowed them to underscore the longevity of the newspaper while also collecting revenues necessary for continued operations.  Rarely did they ask subscribers, advertisers, and others to bring their accounts completely up to date; instead, most printers continued to allow credit for more recent transactions.

On occasion, however, some printers did request an “[*Immediate Settlement*]” in the notices they placed in their newspapers.  Such was the case in August 1771 when the Fowles asked “THOSE of our Eastern Customers, from Kittery to Falmouth, &c. who received the New Hampshire Gazette, of Mr. James Libbey, late Post Rider, deceased … to settle immediately with the Printers.”  They did not ask that all customers settle accounts, only those served by the former post rider.  Libbey’s death may have disrupted distribution of the New-Hampshire Gazette in eastern towns located in the portion of Massachusetts that eventually became Maine.  If they were uncertain when another reliable post rider would cover the route, the Fowles may have considered the time right to get accounts in order with subscribers in that region.

To lend their request some urgency, the printers designed a headline intended to attract attention.  The Fowles sometimes enclosed headlines for advertisements, especially legal notices, within brackets, a practice peculiar to their newspaper.  In this instance, they supplemented brackets with asterisks to make clear that they desired an “[*Immediate Settlement*]” without delays.  They deployed graphic design to distinguish their notice from others as they grappled with a transition within the operations of their printing office and the distribution of their newspapers.

August 17

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

Providence Gazette (August 17, 1771).

ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more, are desired to make immediate Payment.”

Colonial printers often inserted advertisements in their own newspapers, taking advantage of their access to the press to promote various aspects of their businesses.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, for instance, regularly ran advertisements for “BLANKS of various Kinds” or printed forms for legal and commercial transactions available for sale at his printing office.  He placed other notices concerning the operations of the newspaper, including an advertisement in the August 17, 1771, edition indicating that “ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more, are desired to make immediate Payment.”  Colonial printers regularly advanced credit to subscribers and periodically called on them to settle accounts.

To increase the likelihood that subscribers would take note of this advertisement, Carter placed it immediately after the news.  Some readers likely perused advertisements more quickly than they examined news items, so positioning this notice first among the advertisements made it more likely that those readers would see it as they transitioned between different kinds of content in that issue of the Providence Gazette.  In addition, Carter placed a lively letter from “AFRIEND to the PUBLIC” above his notice about making payments for the newspaper.  The “FRIEND” told a tale of “Fraud and Villainy” involving insurance and the “many Contradictions contained in the Papers” related to the loss of the sloop Betsy.  The “FRIEND” acknowledged that Robert Stewart, the alleged perpetrator, might have been innocent, but still declared that “the whole appears to be a designed Fraud.”

Carter had choices about where to place his notice requesting payment.  He ran another brief notice concerning blanks in the same issue, a notice that he could have inserted after the letter about insurance fraud instead of giving that spot to his advertisement directed to subscribers.  Indeed, he could have placed any of the advertisements in that issue immediately after the news, but he reserved that space for his attempt to collect on overdue subscription fees.  As printer, he exercised his prerogative when it came to the order of advertisements as well as the order of the news.

December 19

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 19, 1770).

“ALL Persons indebted to CARNE & WILSON, are requested to discharge their respective Debts.”

Apothecaries Carne and Wilson advertised widely when they dissolved their partnership in the fall of 1770, calling on clients to “discharge their respective Debts” or else face the consequences.  They threatened that those who disregarded their notices would “have to settle with a Gentleman of the Law.”  They also expressed some exasperation, stating that they had inserted advertisement “in the several Gazettes” published in Charleston so none of their customers “may plead ignorance.”  Such notices were common in South Carolina and throughout the colonies.

Neither Carne nor Wilson retired, moved to another town, or ceased working as apothecaries when their partnership came to an end.  Instead, they each pursued other opportunities.  Wilson ran his own shop, while Carne embarked on a new partnership.  Both ran advertisements for their new endeavors, notices that overlapped with their advertisements instructing former customers to settle accounts.  In the December 19, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, for instance, a single column on the front page included advertisements representing all three enterprises.  Wilson’s advertisement for a “LARGE and compleat ASSORTMENT of DRUGS, CHEMICAL, GALENICAL, and FAMILY MEDICINES” appeared at the top of the column, followed immediately by Carne and Poinsett’s advertisement for a “Large Parcel of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”  Even though they were now competitors rather than partners, the proximity of their advertisements kept their names associated with each other.  Several other advertisements appeared in that column, with Carne and Wilson’s notice for customers to discharge their debts at the bottom.
The public prints featured reverberations of Carne and Wilson’s former partnership even as they launched and promoted new ventures.  The success of those new ventures may have depended in part on closing the books on the partnership, hence their stern warning that recalcitrant customers might have to deal with an attorney “as no longer indulgence can possibly be given, there being an absolute necessity for having every thing relative to that concern closed.”  Colonial entrepreneurs placed advertisements throughout the various stages of operating their businesses, announcing that they would soon open, promoting goods and services available at their shops, and informing the public when they closed.  The three advertisements that Carne and Wilson placed simultaneously in the South-Carolina and American General Gazetteencapsulated this cycle, telling a more complete story about their commercial activities.

November 26

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

Boston Evening-Post (November 26, 1770).

“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.

September 28

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 205 years ago today?

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 28, 1770).

This Paper compleats the 14th Year since its first Publication.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, made the usual updates to the masthead for the September 28, 1770, edition.  It included the full title, The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle, and advised readers that it “CONTAIN[ED] the Freshest ADVICES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC.”  A woodcut depicting a lion and unicorn, symbols of the United Kingdom, appeared in the center, along with the initials G.R. for George Rex, the king.  Despite tensions with Parliament due to the Townshend Acts and other abuses, colonists continued to identify as members of the British Empire loyal to George III.  Like most other newspapers printed in the colonies, the volume and issue number also adorned the masthead.  The September 28 edition was part of “VOL. XIV.”  The Fowles listed the issue as “NUM. 728” and, unlike most other printers, explained that number indicated how many “Weeks since this Paper was first Publish’d.”  They added one additional item to the masthead to mark a milestone in the history of the newspaper’s publication.  “This PAPER compleats the fourteenth Year of” the New-Hampshire Gazette, that notation informed readers.

The Fowles noted this milestone elsewhere in the issue as well.  Those “Freshest ADVICES” included advertisements that delivered news and other information, among them notices from the printers.  The Fowles gave their advertisement a privileged place, positioning first among the advertisements and immediately following the shipping news from the customs house.  “As this Paper compleats the 14th Year since its first Publication,” the Fowles addressed readers, “it is desir’d, that those who are in Arrears, would pay off immediately, that it may be determin’d, whether it will be worth while to send any more to those who are so very delinquent.”  The Fowles simultaneously celebrated their accomplishment and an important milestone in the history of their newspaper while also warning subscribers who had not paid their bills to remedy the situation or they would not receive additional issues on credit.  The end of one year and the start of another was a good opportunity for the Fowles to settle accounts and make sure all was in order.

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 28, 1770).

September 11

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 11, 1770).

“Merchants and Tradesmen may have their Books regulated by the Month.”

As summer turned to fall in 1770, Jacob Valk took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advertise his services as a bookkeeper.  He informed readers that he “keeps an Office where Merchants and Tradesmen may have their Books regulated by the Month.”  He assisted with balancing and closing accounts as well as opening accounts “properly for those commencing any Kind of Business.”  Valk oversaw books kept for various purposes: “Partnerships Accounts, and Accounts of Ships, Planters, or Executors.”  In each case, clients could depend on having their ledgers “properly scrutinized, and accurately adjusted.”  They could also expect confidentiality.  Valk promised “Secrecy and Dispatch.”

Valk made a special appeal to prospective clients “apprehensive of a Failure or Litigation at Law.”  By hiring his services, they could avoid Embarrassment in their Affairs.”  Although he did not offer any guarantees, he suggested that anyone anxious about their bookkeeping abilities could gain a sense of security by relying on his guidance and oversight.  It was “more than probable,” he asserted, that his clients would “meet with a happy Prevention” of undesirable outcomes, but only if they acted in a timely manner.  Valk encouraged prospective clients to consult with him early rather than wait until it was too late for him to help.

Valk presented a combination of invitation and warning in his advertisement.  By responding to his notice, “Merchants and Tradesmen” lessened the chances that they would find themselves in the position of having to respond to another sort of notice that frequently appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers, those that called on colonists to settle accounts or face legal action.  In the same issue that carried Valk’s advertisement, Andrew Taylor placed just such a notice directed at “all Persons indebted to me.”  Those who owed Taylor money were on the verge of experiencing “Embarrassment in their Affairs” if they did not settle accounts quickly.  Valk offered an alternative to clients who hired his bookkeeping services.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 25, 1770).

“ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof … are AGAIN requested to settle their respective Balances.”

In 1770, every issue of the Providence Gazette concluded with a colophon that informed readers that the newspaper was “Printed by JOHN CARTER, at his PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespeares Head; where Subscriptions, Advertisements, Articles, and Letters of Intelligence, &c. are received.”  Like any other printer, Carter needed both subscribers and advertisers to make his newspaper a viable enterprise.  Subscribers constituted the foundation, but for many printers the real money was in advertising.  Neither the number of subscribers nor the number of advertisers mattered much, however, if they did not pay their bills.

Colonial printers frequently found it necessary to run notices calling on their customers to pay their debts.  Carter inserted such a notice into the August 25 edition of the Providence Gazette.  He proclaimed, “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof, either for the Gazette, Advertisements, or in any other Manner, are AGAIN requested to settle their respective Balances, that he may be enabled to discharge his own Contracts.”  That “AGAIN” appeared in capital letters communicated Carter’s exasperation, which he further underscored in the process of threatening legal again.  “Those who pay as little Regard to this as they have done to many and repeated Notices of a like Nature,” he warned, “cannot reasonably expect any further Indulgence.”  He considered taking his customers to court “disagreeable” and a last resort, but something he was “compelled” to do under the circumstances.  Having taken a strident tone throughout the notice, Carter attempted to conclude on a positive note.  “[W]hile the Printer justly complains of those who neglect their Arrearages,” he declared, “he cannot but return his grateful Thanks to such Gentlemen as have paid him with Honour and Punctuality.”  In thanking his customers who paid their bills, he also launched an implicit critique of those who had not.

Such notices were a standard feature of colonial newspapers.  Like other entrepreneurs, printers extended credit to their customers but sometimes found themselves overextended or their customers too slow in settling accounts.  For merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others, placing such notices represented an additional cost of doing business.  Newspaper printers, on the other hand, did not incur additional expenses when running such advertisements.

August 10

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

Aug 10 1770 - 8:10:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 10, 1770).

“A Settlement with the Customers is become necessary.”

In eighteenth-century America, printers, like other entrepreneurs, sometimes had to resort to publishing advertisements calling on customers to settle accounts or else face legal action.  For those who published newspapers, the anniversary of the first issue provided a convenient milestone for attempting to collect debts.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted such notices on various occasions, not only the anniversary of their newspaper’s first edition, though that event did often prompt them to remind customers to send payment.

In August 1770, the Fowles noted that it would be “Fourteen Years, next Month, since this Paper was first publish’d.”  That being the case, they reasoned that “a Settlement with the Customers is become necessary, as soon as possible.”  Those who did not comply “with so reasonable a Request” could expect to face the consequences.  The Fowles would put their subscriptions on hold instead of sending new editions, plus they would initiate legal action.  The printers argued that they provided sufficient notice for everyone who intended to pay, whether they lived in “Town or Country,” to visit the printing office or send a note.  At the very least, they requested that subscribers pay for “at least half a Year.”

Yet it was not only subscribers who were delinquent in paying.  Advertisers apparently submitted notices to the printing office and then did not pay for them in a timely manner.  For many printers who published newspapers, advertisements generated far greater revenue than subscriptions.  The Fowles asked “Those who are Indebted for Advertisements” to pay immediately.  They simultaneously informed all readers that in the future “those who send Advertisements for this Paper” must “send the Pay for them at the same time.”  Those who did not do so “must not take it amiss, if they are not publish’d.”  The printers may or may not have intended to follow through on this threat.  At one point they warned that they would publish a list of customers who owed money if they did not settle accounts in the next couple of weeks.  That list never appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It seems unlikely that everyone paid, but perhaps cajoling by the printers yielded sufficient results that they did not take the most extreme measures.

Advertisements calling on subscribers, advertisers, and other customers to settle accounts provide insights into the business practices of printers in eighteenth-century America.  They reveal that printers, like others who provided goods and services during the period, extended credit to their customers, sometimes finding themselves in difficult positions as a result.

April 27

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

Apr 27 - 4:27:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 27, 1770).

“It is impossible to carry on Business without Money.”

Printers, like members of other occupations, frequently extended credit to their customers in early America.  Indeed, the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century depended on extensive networks of credit on both sides of the Atlantic.  As a result, colonial newspapers carried notices calling on consumers to settle accounts nearly often as advertisements hawking goods and services.  Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, profited from both sorts of advertisements … provided that his customers paid their bills.  He sometimes found himself in the position of placing his own notices “earnestly request[ing] all his good Friends and Customers to pay off their Accounts.”

Such was the case at the end of April 1770.  He declared it “impossible to carry on Business without Money.”  Wells offered generous terms to his “Friends and Customers,” asking them to catch up only “to the End of last Year.”  He did not call on them to pay any charges incurred in the past five months, nor did he threaten legal action.  Most similar advertisement concluded with such warning, some of them more polite than others.  Wells also challenged his customers to compare what they owed him to the magnitude of credit he extended to all of his customers.  Their “Accounts separately amount only to small Sums,” he declared, while implicitly suggesting that those small sums represented a much larger total when considered together.  Wells pleaded with customers not to dismiss the impact of settling accounts just because they considered what they owed so trifling as to not matter.  The printer issued a special appeal to “Ladies and Gentlemen in the Country” to pay for their “Gazettes, Advertisements, and other Articles,” advising that they could have “their Factors or other Friends in Town” settle accounts on their behalf.  Rather than overlook his entreaty because they lived at a distance, Wells offered a solution.  What they owed made it just as “impossible to carry on Business” as what those who resided in Charleston owed.

Like other printers, Wells frequently placed notices in his own newspaper.  Usually he advertised books and stationery, but on occasion he placed another sort of notice.  He could not continue to publish the South-Carolina and American General Gazette if “Friends and Customers” did not settle accounts.  More than any advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, or others calling on customers to pay what they owed, Wells stood to generate the most revenue from this particular advertisement, provided that his customers heeded it and submitted payment.

December 30

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

Dec 30 - 12:30:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 30, 1769).

The Price of a Year’s paper is in itself trifling.”

As 1769 drew to a close, John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, placed two timely advertisements in the final edition for the year. In one, he continued marketing the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770.” In the other, he called on “Subscribers to this GAZETTE” to settle accounts, noting that “Numbers of them are now greatly in Arrear.”

Although January 1 marked a new year on the calendar, Carter asserted that November 9 “closed the Year” for most of his subscribers. In the seven weeks that had elapsed since then, many neglected to pay what they owed, “to the great Disadvantage of the Printer.” Carter lamented that during the past year “he has not received of his Subscribers a Sufficiency barely to defray the Expence of Paper on which the GAZETTE has been printed.” Yet he had expenses other than paper, including the “Maintenance and Pay of Workmen.” Like other printers who issued similar notices to subscribers, Carter suggested that publishing a newspaper did not pay for itself, at least not readily. If subscribers wished for the Providence Gazette to continue circulation, they had a duty to pay for that service to the community. Otherwise, “the Publication of this GAZETTE must be discontinued.”

Doing so required little sacrifice on the part of any particular subscriber. “The Price of a Year’s Paper is in itself trifling,” Carter argued, “and ‘tis certainly in the Power of every Subscriber once in Twelve Months to pay Seven Shillings.” He hypothesized that because the annual subscription fee was so low that it made it easy for subscribers to overlook it or even dismiss its importance. What did seven shillings one way or another matter to Carter? They mattered quite a bit, the printer answered, noting “that a Thousand such Trifles, when collected, make a considerable sum.”

Carter very likely exaggerated the number of subscribers for the Providence Gazette. He did so to make a point, but it served another purpose as well. The success of colonial newspapers depended at least as much on advertising revenue as subscription fees. Prospective advertisers needed to know that inserting notices in the Providence Gazette would likely yield returns on their investments because the newspaper circulated to so many subscribers throughout the colony and beyond. Inflating his circulation helped Carter encourage more advertising. That did not mean, however, that it would solve his financial difficulties. Although most of the notice addressed subscribers, Carter concluded by requesting that “EVERY PERSON indebted to him, either for the GAZETTE, Advertisements, or in any other Manner, immediately … settle and discharge his respective Account.” Apparently some advertisers were just as delinquent as subscribers when it came to paying their bills.