Records of Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-25
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      64 linear metres 66 boxes, approx 158 document bundles, 290 letter books, 27 ledgers

Scope and Content

The records of Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd. consist of: general day books, ledgers, account books, details of sundry creditors, letter books, and commission books for the years 1861-1915; general correspondence and letters to and from a variety of individuals 1895-1960; material from trade representatives, editorial notices, sales department material; and other miscellaneous material.

Within the Nelson Papers there is a very large body of correspondence between John Buchan and Nelson's covering the years 1909-1929. The correspondence includes letters about manuscripts submitted from authors, about photographs and other illustrations for works, about translations of works published, about terms of contract and royalties, and about new work published by other firms. The correspondence also deals with Buchan's own material. The Buchan Correspondence consists of over 4,700 letters and has been given the shelfmark Gen. 1728/B/1-14.

The papers also include a small tranche (at E2007.16) being correspondence (written between 1945-1961) and other material relating to the Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd. edition of the Life of St. Anselm; and, notices of Hubert Peter Morrison (d. 1971).

Administrative / Biographical History

The British publishing firm of Nelson began as a small bookselling business established in Edinburgh in 1789. The founder of the bookshop was Thomas Neilson (1780-1861). Neilson extended his interests to include publishing, beginning with the publication, in monthly parts, of Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim's Progress'. In 1818, the name of the firm was changed to Thomas Nelson because of the tendency among customers to misspell Neilson. In 1835, Thomas was joined in the business by his son William and a little later by his younger son Thomas. The business, located in Edinburgh's West Bow, grew on the formula of reprinting standard authors at low prices, and opened branches in London and New York. In 1858 the name of the firm changed to Thomas Nelson and Sons. In Edinburgh during 1845-46, the firm moved to larger custom-built premises at Hope Park just to the south of the city centre. There, with a workforce of 600, all the activities connected with the production of books were carried out under one roof: printing, stereotyping, bookbinding, lithographing, engraving, woodcutting, warehousing, and even dyeing of the plain white calico used in bindings. From 1856, colour-printing became a feature of their production and by 1860 the firm was the leading publisher of cheap colour-printed titles. From his earliest years with the firm, Thomas exhibited a mechanical bent and in 1850 he invented a rotary press with curved stereotyped plates fixed on cylinders and with a continuous web of paper - the type of press used in the newspaper industry well into the 20th century. Nelson's production focused on story books, religious books and books of travel and adventure by popular authors, particularly intended for young readers. A series of school books was initiated, and after the Education Act of 1871, which had prompted a demand for improved school-books, Nelson's began their series of Royal readers. John Buchan (1875-1940), writer of fiction and history, was a literary adviser and the firm also published his work. Other authors published include Bagehot, Belloc, G.K.Chesterton, Erskine Childers, H. J. Newbolt, Mark Twain and H.G. Wells.

Access Information

Arrangement of the collection is somewhat chaotic and, with the exception of the distinct subset of John Buchan letters, much of it is uncharted, the handlist providing only a very superficial overview. As such, it is not always possible to locate easily items listed in the handlist.

The physical condition of many items within the collection also means that we cannot readily produce them without the prior attention of a conservator. We reserve the right to refuse access where the amount of work involved exceeds our available capacity.

It is advisable therefore to contact us well in advance of consultation, so we can assess and advise you as appropriate.

Acquisition Information

The bulk of the Nelson Archive came to the Edinburgh university Library in 1969.

Other Finding Aids

CRC Reading Room: Handlists H25 (General) and H25.1 (Buchan letters)