Creditors are tough in Ethiopia

I’m currently reading an old book about “collection letters” — yes, I am committed — and thought I’d share a couple that were sent to late-paying subscribers of TIME magazine in the 1930s. They were, I understand, in circulation concurrently alongside other examples, and different letters were sent according to each subscriber’s situation. I have no idea whether this still happens.

According to the book, the second example was, rather unsurprisingly, the least effective of the two.

(Source: Successful Collection Letters; Image via.)



Dear Mr _______:

Our accounting department does solemnly affirm, maintain, and assert that you owe us $2.50.

We hate to get excited about $2.50. We also dislike the usual “collection letter” that bursts into tears in the first paragraph and yells for the law in the second.

Trouble is, though, that you and 999 other subscribers–all holding out $2.50–leave us $2,500 in the hole. It is this little problem in elementary arithmetic that shakes our faith in humanity.

So (to quote from an esteemed contemporary) won’t you “obey that impulse” and send us your check today for $2.50, for in this case procrastination is certainly the thief of Time.

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, ‘Francis DeW. Pratt’)

Circulation Manager


The Weekly News Magazine

Dear Subscriber:

Creditors are tough in Ethiopia.

When an Ethiopian owes money, his creditor may take him in tow until he pays up. A chain is welded around the delinquent wrist and from then on he is led about at the pleasure of the other fellow. When his custodian drops in for a soda, or its Ethiopian equivalent, he may be hitched like a horse, outside.

Such is the relation of debtor and creditor in the late kingdom of Haile Selassie, Power of Trinity I, Conquering Lion of Judah.

What happens when a ninety pound creditor gets hitched to a two hundred pound debtor is not explained in the current dispatches.

But it doesn’t matter much, because in our particular case, we would greatly prefer to revers the Ethiopian order of things. It would be much simpler and considerably more civilized for you to take TIME with you, wherever you go, than vice versa.

Our bill for your current subscription is enclosed. Wonder if you wouldn’t like to pay it now and thus keep TIME coming right along.


(Signed, ‘Charles Mason’)

Credit Manager