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