Records of Aberdeen University Press

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection comprises two distinct units - the business archive of Aberdeen University Press, and the company's printed archive.

The business archive comprises principally the business records of Aberdeen University Press, 1900 - 1991, its predecessor, Arthur King and Co., 1869-1900, and associated companies, The Rosemount Press, 1903-1932; Wm Jackson and Co., 1914-1952; John Avery and Co., 1884 - 1958; John Milne, The Central Press Ltd, 1944 - 1977; G. Cornwall and Sons, 1857 - 1972; and the White Heather Publishing Co., 1963 - 1977. The business records are supported by a large volume of printed material produced by or relating to Aberdeen University Press, 1817 - 1996, The Rosemount Press, 1889 - 1923, and other printing companies (both local and national), 1881 - 1951. There are also press cuttings, manuscript notes, obituaries and photographs relating to the history of the Press and its employees, 1886 - 1971; and two small collections of material about the history of printing in Aberdeen, 1904 - 1970; and the history of printing and publishing outside Aberdeen, 1912 - 1979. Personal papers of Theodore Watt, 1898 - 1948, and Harold Watt, 1946 - 1992, relating to their education, professional commitments and family are also deposited.

The printed archive contains 269 examples of the book output of the Press and of its constituent printing and bookbinding houses, published between 1840 and 1982. It is a fairly random fraction (less than 1 %) of the Press' total output in this period, with most examples in the collection dating from the twentieth century, but is wide-ranging in regard of subject matter and printing styles represented. Additionally, given its broad chronological coverage, the archive reflects changes in printing and binding technology, and in book design and typography, which took place between the early nineteenth - late twentieth centuries.

Administrative / Biographical History

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

Arrangement

The business records of the company, its constituents and predecessors have been arranged by individual company, and by record type therein. Artificial series were created to accommodate the considerable volume of ancillary papers relating to the various companies and their interests.

Conditions Governing Access

Open, subject to signature accepting conditions of use at reader registration sheet

Acquisition Information

See Archival History, above

Other Finding Aids

Item level lists are available in the Reading Room, Special Libraries and Archives, University of Aberdeen.

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online http://www.abdn.ac.uk/diss/library/

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: speclib@abdn.ac.uk) and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. Where possible, assistance will be given in identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures

Custodial History

The first batch of the AUP archive was placed on deposit in the Aberdeen University Library archives in 1986, with the permission of Dr HMR Watt, former managing director of the Press. The records of the Press and its constituents had been surveyed at Farmers Hall in 1974 and an archival list was drawn up based on that survey. It excluded the firm's collection of bound file copies of books printed or published by the Press, not comprehensive, but including most of its magna opera; and unbound file copies of books printed on the premises. The survey and list was later extended to cover the period to Jan 1978, when the AUP became wholly owned by Pergamon Press Ltd, and ceased to be a Public Company.

In 1993, Dr HMR Watt deposited more material (approximately 9 boxes and 1 volume) which was also to be listed and incorporated into the main collection. This latter acquisition contains papers relating to the AUP activities post 1979, with the appointment of a publishing director, Colin MacLean. Before 1979 the AUP had published material only occasionally, but with the appointment of Colin MacLean the publishing side of the Press developed rapidly. These latter papers also contain material relating to the collapse of the Robert Maxwell publishing group, and to the events that led to the liquidation of the AUP. There are also personal papers of the Watt family and further material to be inserted into the existing collection.

It should be noted that in the original list drawn up from the survey in 1986, a few items were retained by AUP and others were not found on deposit.

Accruals

No accruals expected

Related Material

Letters between Sir George Adam Smith (1856 - 1942), Aberdeen University, and Theodore Watt (1884 - 1946), Aberdeen University Press, Jan 1917 [2 items] (GB 231 MS 3116) Letters between Sir George Adam Smith (1856 - 1942), Aberdeen University, and Theodore Watt (1884 - 1946), Aberdeen University Press, Jan 1917 [2 items] (GB 231 MS 3116) Papers of Colin G. MacLean, including material relating to Aberdeen University Press, 1970 - 1990 [2 boxes: closed until 2015] (GB 231 MS 3457)

A number of pamphlets printed by, or relating to the Press are also deposited in the University pamphlet collections. Full details can be found on the University Library Catalogue http://www.abdn.ac.uk/diss/library/

Bibliography

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).

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), pp. 143 - 162; Brief History: Aberdeen University Press, Printing Historical Society Bulletin, 24 (1988), 326.

Additional Information

This material is original

Geographical Names