Remembering: Martha's Early Newsletters

 In the spring of 1988, Martha and a small team of assistants put together the first issue of the Entertaining Newsletter – a quarterly publication that offered recipes, gardening and domestic advice, and personal essays by Martha about the projects she was working on. It was an offshoot of her bestselling book Entertaining from 1982 and, in many ways, it was the forebearer of Martha Stewart Living magazine, which would emerge just three years later. For this reason, it is one of the most collectible and treasured Martha Stewart publications.

The Entertaining Newsletter was composed almost entirely by Martha, written on an IBM computer in her small office at number 10 Saugatuck Avenue in Westport, Connecticut. It was a way for Martha to communicate with her growing audience and a medium she could use to promote her latest books and seminars. I love imagining a late-40s Martha sitting at her desk with the golden afternoon sun streaming through the window, casting a glow in her long blond hair, books and notebooks stacked on every surface, as she typed up essays on homekeeping and some of her latest recipes. 

 From Martha’s Home to Yours

Each issue of the newsletter was like a personal love letter from Martha to her readers. They contained her words, her recipes, her reviews of the latest cookbooks and the hottest restaurants, as well as lists of her personal tastes and preferences for all manner of things pertaining to the home, from her favourite cleaning products to the best garden suppliers in the United States. There were occasional guest columnists, but the amplified voice of the newsletter was very definitely hers. 


The newsletter was printed on semigloss broadsheet, stapled at the center to form a handsome 8 x 10 booklet. The number of pages rarely exceeded 12 or 13. Photography was kept to a minimum and the pictures were usually small, and always in black and white: often, the photos were taken by Martha, herself. Colour was introduced to the design through the titling and pictorial elements, which were often classical drawings of flora, fauna and still-life compositions tucked here and there amidst the text.

The newsletters also served as a guide to her whereabouts and projects, frequently listing her upcoming lectures around the country, anecdotes about the making of her books and television specials, and promotion of some of the events she was hosting, such as seminars and tours of the Connecticut home she refurbished for charity auction (the Adams House), which was profiled in her book Martha Stewart’s New Old House. There was even an early form of the Ask Martha column where readers could send in their questions seeking advice from Martha about all things pertaining to the home.

Readers in the United States and Canada could subscribe to the newsletter for $18 a year (four issues) and pay using check or money order; credit cards were not accepted. 

 The Impetus to Teach

In reading these newsletters, I’ve come to truly understand just how deeply Martha loves to teach, and how that desire to share knowledge has always been the leading principle in everything she does. The detail contained in her essays in the newsletter is guided by such a passionate devotion to convey information regarding seemingly ordinary topics that it almost assails the reader’s understanding of our everyday tasks and choices. With Martha’s pen, instructions on caring for antique quilts are treated with the same clarity and importance as instructions on how to build a cable-stayed bridge! It is engaging text – filled with inspiration. You can almost sense that Martha had to seriously curb the breadth of her enthusiasm to conform to the confines of a newsletter format, so effusive and descriptive are her words. 

 A Growing Platform

By this time in her career (1988) Martha was the spokesperson for Kmart’s line of housewares and was appearing in television and print advertisements across the United States and Canada for the department store. She had written several bestselling books on the subjects of entertaining, cooking and weddings, and had produced several television specials for PBS on those same subjects. She was contributing columns to magazines such as House & Garden and Good Housekeeping, as well as national newspaper articles, and making guest spots on prime-time radio and television shows: her profile and influence were strengthening. There was a growing demand from her audience to know more about Martha, the person, and to learn directly from her in a more immediate fashion.

The Entertaining Newsletter, however, was not sold on any newsstand and was not immediately accessible to her ever-widening audience. It was subscription only, thereby limiting its reach. I have spoken to several longtime Martha Stewart readers and none are exactly sure how she first promoted this newsletter. Martha, too, has not written about or spoken much about this newsletter in any of her subsequent columns or interviews. Information regarding its inception and distribution is scarce. This was pre-Internet and she did not yet have a daily television show or any other broadcast or print outlet for marketing or advertising the newsletter. My assumption is that she may have used in-store flyers, adverts and mailers through Kmart to initially begin to entice subscriptions.

The newsletter continued until the winter of 1990 when Martha Stewart Living magazine was launched through Time-Warner publications, with great success. The need to create a magazine was the natural evolution of the Entertaining Newsletter. In a bimonthly (eventually monthly) publication of much larger scale, Martha could continue her lessons and share even more information with a larger group of readers. 


These newsletters are exceedingly rare today. While the publication enjoyed popularity, it did not, as mentioned, have the extensive reach of a newsstand publication or book. The newsletter was quite niche, with relatively narrow distribution. If you have any copies of these early newsletters, treasure them! They are excellent examples of Martha’s early writing and contain numerous illuminating signposts of the happenings in her life during the late 1980s. (They are also, quite honestly, filled with excellent advice and recipes!) I was extremely honoured to have received the newsletters shown in these photographs as a very generous gift from a reader, but some of them have appeared on eBay selling for hundreds of dollars each. I am unclear exactly how many issues of the Entertaining Newsletter were published. There were definitely three volumes, each with four numbered issues, meaning there must have been approximately 12 issues in all.  The six issues showcased in this post, span from winter/spring 1989 until summer, 1990. A complete collection in pristine condition, including the premier issue, would likely be worth thousands of dollars to a collector.

The New Newsletter

In 2007, Martha revitalized the newsletter concept. Now at the helm of a highly-influential media company that was recognized around the world, and herself a living brand at the height of her fame, Martha wanted to resurrect the intimate connection to her readers. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia published The Martha Stewart Newsletter, a seasonal offering that was printed on large, matte broadsheet that was folded into quarters. It was piloted by Margaret Roach who was the editor-in-chief at Martha Stewart Living at the time. It was later edited by Celia Barbour, who worked on the Baby and Kids magazines. It was only available via subscription in the US and Canada ($22) and was promoted on The Martha Stewart Show and in Martha Stewart Living magazine. It echoed many of the hallmarks of the Entertaining Newsletter, including personal essays written by Martha, recipes, a calendar of events, some of her favourite things, books she recommends and descriptions and photographs of places she has traveled to. The design, too, was similar to that of its predecessor with black-and-white photography, pops of colour in monochromatic design elements, such as the new logo for her farm, Cantitoe Corners, in Bedford, New York: an etching of a stylized sycamore tree.

The Martha Stewart Newsletter published only three issues before it was cancelled, making it also quite collectible. Issues on eBay can sell for between $25 and $40 each. This later newsletter was replaced by a more tech-savvy option: the blog. The Martha Blog emerged as Martha’s personal communication tool where she could share everything that was going on at her homes in a more timely and direct way. While it lacked the keepsake quality that only printed material can bring to a reader, the blog was a far more effective medium as a personal communication tool for Martha: it was free (for both reader and publisher) and did not require any paper or ink or printing or mailing. The Martha Blog continues to this day and is a great resource for home gardeners and home cooks looking for inspiration and knowledge. To read more about The Martha Stewart Newsletter, click here.


Susan said...

I love seeing the old newsletters! Thank you!

Anne Van Acker / Saratoga Springs, NY said...

I don't think I ever knew about these old newsletters - they are so detailed and informative! There is much about the older issues of MSL that I miss in the newer version - even though I know everything has to evolve over time. The early newsletters remind me of what I loved originally about the magazine, mainly having more of Martha's voice in the content. Thanks for bringing these out for us to see!

Anonymous said...

Hold the phone-- did you find these on E*B*A*Y ? IF so what would you have been willing to pay---LOL DiD she copywrite them hint hint fair use in sharing articles no? Eh. she also produced a shortlived "newletter" to "replace" issues to subscribers for some such reason but only one was generated-- something about the McMurray Hatchery she would order her chickens from --do you remember That ONE???


Anonymous, the answers to all your questions are in the text. Read on!

Anonymous said...

OKay the newsletter was cancelled as you say only to have our MSL subscriptions extended to replace the issues that were never produced-- I suppose I only received one because i subscribed late in the enrollment. Okay I did not notice the read more click here oh well Hey When did you start that?? awareness never mind I now know to be more situational aware


I started it when Blogger wouldn't publish my posts UNLESS I did it. C'est la vie!