What’s In the Box

By Ray Schultz

When asked to define a Johnson Box, copywriter Bill Jayme said the purpose was to summarize a direct mail letter, “just as 19th century English writers like Dickens would say at the top, ‘Chapter 10, in which Mr. McGruder discovers Emily in a Compromising Position with the Director’s Son.'”

That more or less nails it. Less certain is who actually invented the box. The alleged creator, Frank Johnson, always disclaimed ownership, although others gave him credit for it. Well, here’s a letter by Johnson, featuring an actual…Johnson Box. (You’ll notice that we’re not calling it a Jayme Box or a Baring-Gould Box). Scroll to the bottom to see the actual letter.

As always with Frank Johnson, the four-page letter for American Heritage magazine, apparently sent in 1959 or ‘60, is a helluva piece of writing. It starts with the box:

This letter contains 

  • one rare picture of a vanished American,
  • the story of an extraordinary magazine,
  • some words of amplification about both the above – plus
  • news of a good introductory offer.

Dear Reader:

 Not much happens to an adult who forgets that π R2 equals the area of a circle.

 But let slip from your mind a concept like “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” – or forget the events that inspired it – and you’ve lost something of value.

 Fortunately, most Americans don’t forget.

 Our nation’s history means more to each of us than a hazily remembered series of texts and tests. We know we are products of a remarkable series of events, and of a magnificent idea. Surely such roots and purpose should be worth more attention than a memory of a copy-book exercise, or a record of a “passing grade.” history – ours especially – can be sheer delight to wander through. And it can reward the journey with a perspective on today that no other cultural asset can match.

 “A national who does not know its history,” said George Santayana, “is doomed to repeat it.”

 AMERICAN HERITAGE is a magazine designed to help you know your history better – and to know it with a growing sense of pleasure.

 So if you agree that a sense of history is an asset worth cultivating, then we suggest you will find this magazine a colorful and accurate chart for a wonderful trip through time. AMERICAN HERITAGE roams freely through the whole history of our country – its people, its land, its growth, its triumphs, its fads and follies, manners and madness.

This is an extensive assignment. It takes an expansive magazine to do it as it should be done – with lots of color illustrations to show history as it looked when it happened, with good papers for fine reproduction, with a staff of skilled journalistic-historians and researchers, and with the talents of America’s front-rank historians as its authors.

So a copy of AMERICAN HERITAGE costs $3.95; obviously we cannot afford to fire off a free sample to each prospective subscriber. We have sent along just one sample print from the magazine, to give you some idea of the quality of the reproduction, the extent of our search for unusual material, and the fresh look of our whole approach to history:

The print enclosed is from a water color painted by the Swiss artist-reporter Carl Bodmer, as he traveled through the West in 1832-33, with the junketing Prince Maximilian of Wied. The Indian, Four Bears, is a chief of a tribe that was wiped out by disease only four years later. He was identified as a friend of the white man. Bodmer did not say whose friendly scalp dangled from the Indian’s lance. (The trailing red disc behind the tip of the lance is the late somebody’s hair piece.)

You’ll find excursions and discoveries such as this in every AMERICANHERITAGE. Each issue covers, with accuracy and style, a wide range of topics – from a first look at some skeleton in America’s closet, to a new look at some famous event where the facts may have been buried under an accumulation of myth.

AMERICAN HERITAGE is published independently, under the aegis of two distinguished groups of historians, The American Association for State and Local History and The Society of American Historians. The senior editor is Bruce Catton, most honored of all students of the Civil War; Dr. Allan Nevins, dean of American historians, heads the Advisory Board. Contributors include America’s foremost writers of lively history.

The August issue will continue the tour of the past with 15 articles and picture features, including

A Tax on Whiskey? Never! By Gerald Carson. A timely piece on an old but still explosive issue. In 1794 the farmers of Western Pennsylvania claimed that country whiskey, that honored rural elixir, was being unmercifully slapped by the tax collectors. The locals were walloping the revenue men and firing up the stills with equal ferocity – until George Washington (who turned out some pretty good rye of his own at his Mount Vernon still) used Federal force to settle “The Whiskey Rebellion.”

End of a Friendship by Charles Seymour, ex-president of Yale. In a personal memoir, Col. Edward House, key man in the Wilson administration and by the President’s own christening “my second personality,” tells for the first time, why he thinks he fell out with Wilson.

The Man Who Invented Panama, an interview by Commentator Eric Sevareid with Philippe Bunau-Varilla, the man who pushed through the Panama Canal.

The Action Off Flamborough Head by Oliver Warner. An important item in each issue of AMERICAN HERITAGE is an extract (not a condensation) from some good new history book. The August selection (from Warner’s forthcoming “Great Sea Battles”) tells of the moonlight sea duel off the Yorkshire coast between Joan Paul Jones and Britain’s Captain Pearson. Jones termed the conditions that night “really deployable.” But he won – and soon was neglected. Pearson lost and was knighted.

Like to read further? More than 330,000 subscribers will. We’ve found that 96% of them save every copy of AMERICAN HERITAGE. It’s written, illustrated, printed, and packaged to last. For example, it comes in hard covers, like a fine book, and with no advertising to date its contents.

In each magazine you’ll find 112 editorial pages and at least 100 illustrations – more than a third in color The pictorial array consists of tintypes, paintings, posters, old charts and notebooks, photographs, etchings, and daguerreotypes — many of them never published before. The August issue has two articles containing rare illustrations:

A portfolio of Japanese water colors (circa 1855), showing how the first Westerners in Japan looked to their Oriental hosts; and some rare on-the-spot sketches of the great Chicago Fire of 1871, with captions written by an eyewitness.

In appearance and content, AMERICAN HERITAGE is unusual. So is its $3.95-a-copy price tag. But matched against books of comparably quality (you can’t compare it to the usual magazine), the single-copy price is a real bargain. Our current introductory offer is better than that:

You buy three issues—and get six.

Ordinarily, a year’s subscription would be $15. Bought one-by-one over the course of the next year, the tab for these same six issues would be $23.70. But by ordering now, your six issues can cost you just half that — $11.85, the retail cost of three.

To subscribe at this introductory price, fill in and mail the postpaid order card. You need not pay anything until after you have seen your first copy. Then you have a choice of three monthly installments of $3.95 each … or a single payment of $11.85. (The order card explains all the options.)

If at any time you feel that AMERICAN HERITAGE does not do at least as creditable job for America’s history and your interest as we promised you, you can cancel your subscription and we will refund the amount of the undelivered portion.

The August issue can begin to show you why AMERICAN HERITAGE has won the acclaim of so many critics, and the loyalty of so many readers. Mail the order card today? Your first copy is boxed, and can be in your hands within a few weeks.

And thank you.


James Parton


2016-04-27 08.21.20




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