The history of the Aberdeen University Press dates back to 1840, when the brothers, George and Robert King founded a printing and publishing firm in Diamond Street, Aberdeen. Before their business as printers ceased in 1850, a third brother, Arthur, had begun his own printing concern, also in the city, as Arthur King and Co., and this continued under the King family until 1872, when Arthur's son sold the firm to John Thomson. Under the latter's direction the business expanded rapidly, undertaking much of Aberdeen University's printing and also establishing a reputation among London publishers.
The Aberdeen University Press (hereafter AUP) registered as a Public Company in 1900, was formed to acquire the business of Arthur King and Co., the first chairman being Professor (later Sir) William Ramsay, of the Chair of Humanity at the University of Aberdeen. Since then, the press has specialised in diverse and difficult type-settings, including foreign language, mathematical and technical work. Notable amongst its products have been Bibliotheca Lindesiana (1910), the catalogue of the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres' library at Haigh Hall; catalogues of the Mingana Collections of Middle Erastern MSS in the John Rylands Library, Manchester; Sir Charles James Jackson's English Goldsmiths and Their Marks (with over 13,000 marks reproduced in facsimile); and periodicals such as the Annual Register (printed by the Press since 1892), Mind (since 1887), the Transactions of the Faraday Society (since 1921), and the English Historical Review (since 1934). By the early 1970s approximately 50 percent of the business of the Press consisted of printing educational books and journals, and 50 percent of general printing and bookbinding; the firm's interest in publishing was marginal, being limited to a few books of specialist or local interest.
In 1932 the business was amalgamated with the Rosemount Press, a firm of general printers which had evolved in 1898 as part of the Aberdeen Free Press organisation; in 1949 the business was acquired of William Jackson (Aberdeen) Ltd, a bookbinding concern begun in 1855 and with premises latterly in Back Wynd, Aberdeen; in 1953 was added the business of John Avery and Co. Ltd, a firm of general printers which owned the Greyfriars Press in King Street, and which had begun printing in the early 1840s, becoming a limited company in 1884; and in 1966, the business of Messers Edmond and Spark, stationers and bookbinders, who had operated in the city since 1807, was merged in the firm.
AUP was itself taken over by the British Bank of Commerce in 1970, of which John Milne, The Central Press (Aberdeen) Ltd, also became, in 1970, a wholly-owned subsidiary, as did G. Cornwall and Sons Ltd and its subsidiary, The White Heather Publishing Co. Ltd , in 1972.
From 1870 to 1963 the Press had its main office and works in Upper Kirkgate, and from 1932 it also occupied the works of the Rosemount Press at Farmers Hall. In 1963 the latter factory was extended to house the Press in its entirety. In 1973 the factory was again extended to house the business of the Central Press and Cornwall's.
In 1979 there was a major change of direction at the Press, when it adopted a new policy to develop the publishing side of its activities. Prior to this, the company had concentrated mainly on printing work. In the same year a new Publishing Director, Colin MacLean, was appointed to pursue this policy and the company's publishing activities developed rapidly..
Eventually, in 1988, the printing and publishing activities of the press were formally separated and taken up by two different companies. The publishing activities continued under the same name, The Aberdeen University Press Ltd. The printing side of the company became a subsidiary of BPCC Ltd, and traded under a new name, BPCC - AUP Aberdeen Ltd. Sadly the fortunes of the publishing company AUP Ltd became enmeshed with the collapse of Robert Maxwell's publishing empire, following his death in 1992. It was discovered that the AUP owed debts of 1.1 million, mainly to its holding company Maxwell Communications Corporation, which was itself, in severe financial difficulty. As a consequence, early in 1992, AUP was put into administration and ceased trading. TAUPIA Ltd (The Aberdeen University Press in Administration) was created in 1993. The company went into formal liquidation in 1993, and was finally wound up in 1996.
A detailed survey of the firm's history is found in Alexander Keith, Aberdeen University Press: an account of the Press from its foundation in 1840 until its occupation of new premises in 1963 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1963). Several short histories have also been published. See Iain Beavan, Aberdeen University Press and the Scottish Typographical Association: an Uneasy Early Relationship, in Images and Texts; their production and distribution in the 18th and 19th centuries, ed. by Peter Isaac and Barry McKay, 14th Bassingthwaite Seminar on the British Book Trade, 1996, Print networks, 1 (Winchester: St Paul's Bibliographies, 1997), 143 - 162; Brief History: Aberdeen University Press, Printing Historical Society Bulletin, 24 (1988), 326.
An obituary of Theodore Watt is published in the Aberdeen University Review, 32 (1947 - 1948), 74-77