#19 – Coffee House newspapers: a brief history… (*revisited)

March 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

A number of titles on our website are referred to as “coffee house newspapers” with little explanation as to what they are. I think we owe our customers a bit of history on this interesting era.

During most of the 17th century newspaper publishing was very heavily regulated. All printing offices in England were under the control of the Surveyor of the Imprimery, or Press. Roger L’Estrange held the position in the latter half of the century and had the sole privilege of writing, printing & publishing newspapers, being involved in the “Intelligencer”, “The News”, the “City Mercury” and the “Observator“. His monopoly was broken in 1665 with the creation of the “Oxford Gazette”, renamed the “London Gazette” when it removed there after 23 issues in Oxford.

With the arrival of William of Orange in 1689 came a reduction of state control over the press. This new-found freedom gave the independent press a real impetus. Readers’ interests widened. Politics & religion were no longer everyone’s cup of tea, for it was in the post-1689 years that the coffee house as a meeting place for exchanging merchandise & ideas came into its own. Newspapers provided stimulus for conversations and gossip & entertainment became accepted & then demanded.
The London coffee-houses provided a gathering place where any man who was reasonably dressed could smoke his long, clay pipe, sip his coffee, read the newsletters of the day, or enter into conversation with other patrons. At this period when journalism was in its infancy and the postal system was unorganized and irregular, the coffee-house provided a center of communication for news and information. Runners were sent round to the coffee house to report major events of the day, such as victory in battle or political upheaval, and the newsletters and gazettes of the day were distributed chiefly in the coffee house. Most of the establishments functioned as reading rooms. In addition, bulletins announcing sales, sailings, and auctions covered the walls of the establishments, providing valuable information to the businessman who conducted much of his business from a table at his favorite coffee house.

During this era, particularly the early years of the 18th century, newspapers such as the “Tatler“, “Spectator“, “Guardian” “Athenian Mercury” & “Rehearsal” among others were very much in vogue in the coffee houses, and were more dialogue in format with back & forth discussion of a specific topic rather than reporting of news of the day.

By the latter half of the 18th century coffee house culture had run its course, but left in its wake much interesting literary work by some notable names including Daniel DeFoe (wrote for “A Review Of The State Of The Nation“, Joseph Addison & Richard Steele among others. Newspaper format tended more towards reporting news events of the day with presses being established outside the boundaries of London as well as increased activity within the city. One of the more successful titles which flourished in the latter half of the 1700’s was the “London Chronicle“, many issues of which we offer on our website, catalogs and supplements.

*The Fall of 2013 marked the 5th anniversary of the History’s Newsstand Blog by Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers. We are grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the newspaper collecting community, and appreciate those who have participated through guest posts, comments, and readership. This year (2014) we are revisiting the top 25 posts (measured by activity), with the number 1 post being re-posted during the first week of 2015. Please enjoy. If you would like to contribute a post for consideration of inclusion on the blog, please contact Guy Heilenman at guy@rarenewspapers.com.