“To the Public”: The Rutland Herald, 1794, and the San Francisco China News, 1874

The publication of the first issue of a newspaper is a momentous occasion.  After scraping together the funding to purchase equipment, lining up supplies, hiring staff, soliciting subscriptions, selling advertisements, and gathering news to print, the newspaper rolls off the press and is ready to be placed in the hands of the public for them to read.

Usually to mark the occasion, the editor writes a piece “To the Public” explaining the goals of the newspaper, what motivated the publication of the paper, and what they see as the future. For example, the first issue of the Rutland Herald (VT) of Dec. 8, 1794, the editor wrote,

“We this day present the Public with the first number of The Rutland Herald; or, Vermont Mercury.  As we have purchased of Mr. Lyon, Editor of the Farmers’ Library, the Printing-Office, Apparatus, and Privileges annexed by law to his Paper, it will, for the future, be carried on by the subscribers, with the above title, under the direction of Dr. Williams.”

The section continues,

Nothing shall be wanting which is in our power to render the Herald an useful and entertaining Paper.  Anecdotes, Poetical Essays, and Speculative Pieces, will be admitted in their proper place and proportion.  But our chief aim will be to collect and publish authentic and accurate accounts of all the Foreign and Domestic transactions which, from time to time, may take place . . . In Political matters we shall be ready to publish any pieces which may be of use to communicate information, or can be considered as relating to the Public:  But on no occasion will we condescend to publish any thing in the Herald of an immoral nature or tendency, become the retailers of scandalous anecdotes, or the dupes of electioneering politicians’ nor will we be eployed in private piques and quarrels, in murdering reputations and characters, or in disturbing the enjoyments of domestic happiness.

Most of these are common sentiments also expressed by other newspapers in their first issues.  Whether the ideals stated in the first issue were maintained is another matter.

Recently the American Antiquarian Society acquired the first issue of a scarce San Francisco newspaper; San Francisco China News dated July 14, 1874.  Except for the title, the entire newspaper is printed in Chinese.  Unlike most newspapers of the time, this one was printed by lithography.  At the time they did not have the huge amounts of lead type or over 3000 characters needed to published a Chinese-language newspaper.  All of the text was hand-drawn in reverse on a lithograph stone.


Since this is the first issue, we are asking our gentle and above-average readers if any of them can read this issue.  If so, is there an essay by the editor or publisher stating their purpose for publishing this newspaper?  What was their intent?  And if it is there, can a translation be provided?  If so, please write to the curator of newspapers, Vincent Golden, vgolden@mwa.org what you find.  I’m counting on the masses.

Published by

Vincent Golden

Curator of Newspapers and Periodicals, American Antiquarian Society

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