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A publishing milestone: 180 years of innovation

July 25, 2020

Today marks an auspicious day in the world of publishing as it is exactly 180 years since Post Magazine first appeared on Saturday 25 July 1840. This was just seven months after the introduction of the Penny Post and it was the first publication anywhere in the world to be sent by post – hence its name – although it was always dedicated to covering the insurance market. It therefore ranks among one of the most significant commercial innovations of the nineteenth century as millions of specialist publications are still sent by post everyday.

This publishing innovation was the brainchild of John Hooper Hartnoll, editor of the Kentish Mercury. It was a bold move back in 1840 to create a magazine devoted to insurance that would be sent by an untried postal system. Sir Rowland Hill’s Penny Post replaced an expensive postal service that would have made any publishing venture economically impossible. It cost 8d (3.5p) to send a letter from London to Birmingham and 11d (4.5p) from the capital to Liverpool. The new system cut that to 1d (0.5p). On the front of that first issue, Post Magazine summed up the opportunity it was exploiting – “Remarkable Application Of The Reduced Postage”, it declared.

The first issue of Post Magazine with a Penny Black

Among the many adverts in the modest eight-page publication that Hartnoll produced from his office at 3½ Wine Office Court, just off Fleet Street opposite the Cheshire Cheese hostelry, was one from the Independent West Middlesex Assurance Company boasting “IMMEDIATE BENEFITS OFFERED to the PUBLIC. Life and Fire Insurance Rates reduced to 30 per cent. Per Annum Lower than any other Office”. The icing on this particular too good to be true cake was the promise of “A liberal commission allowed to Solicitors and Agents”.

Big advertising budgets, generous commissions, lower rates: all of these are familiar hallmarks of frauds and corporate collapses in the insurance industry right up to the present day.

The Independent West Middlesex had been founded just four years earlier by a doctor, two lawyers and a fourth gentleman who had a reputation as a smuggler. Obviously, a sufficient number of solicitors and other insurance agents were attracted by the promise of high commissions because by December 1840 it had taken almost £250,000 (over £25m at today’s values) in premiums. Having given a quarter of that back to the greedy agents, the four directors split the rest between them and fled the country.

We have no record of whether Hartnoll was ever paid for this advertisement but this early brush with fraud inspired him to dedicate the publication to exposing many other scams over the next 30 years of his editorship. That robust independence has been a hallmark of Post over the generations, a model followed by many other specialist publications. The full history of Post can be found on its website.

Insurance Post today: front cover of the current issue

Today, it is known as Insurance Post and is still covering the insurance industry.

This publication has been part of my life for almost 40 years, having edited it, re-launched it, laid the foundations for its events and awards programmes and I still write for it today. It is a privilege to have played a small part in such a great publishing story and to have worked with so many fantastic people along the way.

From → Insurance, Publishing

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