Records of William Collins, Sons and Co Ltd, publishers, Glasgow, Scotland

Scope and Content

  • Directors' minutes, 1865-1963
  • Sir William Collins Memorial Fund minutes, 1888
  • Welfare minutes, 1942-1959
  • Health minutes 1943-1956
  • Social services sub-committee minutes, 1948-1958
  • Directors' agenda books, 1880-1905
  • Ledgers, 1897-1982
  • Cash books, 1953-1964
  • Journals, 1940-1980
  • Accounts and balance sheets, 1894-1959
  • Plant records, 1821-1976
  • Share and investment records, 1880-1971
  • Records relating to overseas subsidiary/agent companies in Australia, New Zealand, Trinidad and the Caribbean, Canada, India, North America and South Africa, 1956-1981
  • Authors book files, 1951-1968
  • Authors correspondence and agreement files, 1937-1982
  • Photographs and company histories, 1822-1974
  • Insurance and investment records, 1957-1972
  • Papers relating to the acquisition of A W Gatrell & Co, publishers, Wealdstone, Middlesex 1968-1972
  • Papers relating to Comet and Jupiter Books, 1955-1963
  • Papers relating to William Collins & Sangster Ltd, 1968-1980
  • Papers relating to Pan Books Ltd, 1973-1975
  • Papers relating to Collsack Ltd, booksellers, 1952-1958

Administrative / Biographical History

William Collins ( 1789-1853  ), the founder of Collins, Sons & Co Ltd, was born in 1789  in Glasgow, Scotland, and became a teacher. He continued his teaching until 1819  when he went into partnership with Charles Chalmers to establish a printing and publishing business. William Collins & Co handled the publishing and printing side of the business while Chalmers & Collins dealt with bookselling and stationery. However, this partnership was short lived and, in 1826  , Collins brought Chalmers out of the business with the copyright of books that had already been published passing to Collins.

In 1817, Collins and his wife, Jane Barclay, had a son, William Collins (II) ( 1817-1895  ). William (II) joined his father's business as an apprentice and in 1848 was admitted as a partner, coinciding with a general expansion of the business. The growth in the number of churches following the Disruption, the major schism in the Church of Scotland, in 1843, and the church extension scheme meant there was an increased demand for bibles and religious literature. The advent of compulsory education also meant many textbooks were required and a general increase in literacy meant that there was an increased demand for all kinds of published material.

William Collins (I) died in 1853 and William Collins (II) continued the business alone until 1865, when he took his two assistants into partnership. Three years later, he took his two eldest sons into partnership, William Collins (III) (d1906) and Alexander Collins and the company became known as William Collins, Sons & Co . Alexander concentrated on extending the bible sales, whilst William (III) concentrated on the manufacturing side of the business. It was William (III) who invented a machine that folded, gummed and dried envelopes in one operation and therefore greatly increased production. In 1880, the company acquired limited liability, becoming William Collins, Sons & Co Ltd.

William Collins (II) died in 1895. The business had greatly expanded under his leadership and he had also taken great interest in his workers' welfare. In 1887  , the Collins Institute was opened near the business' works in Glasgow. This building catered for the workers' educational, social and cultural needs. Collins was also a follower of the temperance movement and was the president of the Scottish Temperance League for many years. He was elected as a City Councillor four times from 1866 and from 1877 to 1880 was Lord Provost of Glasgow.

In 1900, William Collins (III) began to publish children's literature, a successful business move. In 1903, he launched the Collins Handy Illustrated Pocket Novels, although the name was soon changed to Collins Illustrated Pocket Novels. In 1904, he founded Collins Brothers & Co to operate in Australia and New Zealand and, in 1905, William Collins & Co, New York, was incorporated to facilitate transatlantic bible sales and new pocket classics. He also improved and extended the company's printing works. William (III) died in 1906 leaving no heirs.

William Collins (IV) ( 1873-1945  ), son of Alexander Collins, succeeded his uncle as chairman of the company in 1906. He had been elected to the board in 1897, followed by his brother Godfrey Collins and his cousin William Collins Dickson, both of whom became directors in 1899. William (IV), as chairman, took over the supervision of the home and overseas offices, and the manufacture and sale of stationery while Godfrey was responsible for publications. In 1907, they introduced the Sevenpennies series of cheap copyright novels by living authors.

The company continued to expand and as a result the brothers strengthened the board of directors. James Paterson, Ebenezer Dow and Alec B Glen joined the board of directors while Godfrey Collins began to follow a career in politics. He was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Secretary of State of War, Colonel 'Jack' Steely. With the advent of the 1914-1918 World War, both Collins brothers enlisted for military service leaving the business in the hands of James Paterson. The war and rising costs led to ventures such as the Sevenpennies being abandoned. The company also began to seek out original fiction, history, biographies and poetry. This venture met with success and continued to grow over the next decades.

In 1919, Godfrey Collins was knighted and he was appointed junior Lord of the Treasury. In 1924, he became the Chief Liberal Whip before being appointed to the cabinet in 1932. He was made a Privy Councillor and became the Secretary of State for Scotland. He died in 1936.

The 1930s saw the next generation of Collins entering the company. Ian G Collins, the second son of William (IV), began to learn the technicalities of book production as well as the export trade. William Hope Collins, the son of Sir Godfrey, and William Collins (V) also both entered the company. During the 1930s the company continued to flourish with the fiction list continued to be broadened with works from America as well as Britain. William Hope Collins' visit to America in 1932 to inspect printing equipment resulted in new printing presses and binding machines being introduced. In 1938, William Hope Collins became president of the Stationers Co of Glasgow. Ten years later he became president of the British Federation of Master Printers. He also served as president of the Scottish Alliance of Master Printers, and of the International Bureau of Master Printers in Europe.

William (IV) died in 1945. William (V) took over as chairman and managing director, with Ian G Collins as vice chairman and managing director, and William Hope Collins as joint managing director. The company's output increased in terms of both book and stationery production. The company's printing and warehouse capacity was extended, most notably with the opening of the Montgomery Building in 1953. William Hope Collins continued the company's reputation for caring for their workers by developing the pension and profit sharing schemes and by the creation of a health and welfare department in the 1950s. William Hope Collins died in 1967.

In the 1970s, the company moved out of its central Glasgow offices in the Cathedral Street area to Bishopbriggs in the north of the city. In 1983, the company acquired the publishing interests of the media company, Granada Group Ltd . This included Granada Publishing Ltd and its various subsidiary companies, most noticeably the Hart-Davis publishing house and that of MacGibbon & Kee. In 1989, William Collins Sons & Co Ltd merged with Harper & Row, publishers, New York United States, to form HarperCollins, the British side of the company being managed through Harper Collins Publishers Ltd. Harper Collins Publishers Ltd continued to trade in 2003  with head offices at Bishopbriggs, Glasgow, employing c500 people.

Sources: Keir, DavidThe House of CollinsLondon , 1952  , Slaven, A and Checkland, S (eds.)Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography 1860-1960, vol 2 , Aberdeen , 1990  .


The material is arranged into series as shown in the scope and content. Within series items are generally arranged chronologically.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Deposit : William Collins Sons & Co Ltd via BACS : 1987

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom This collection forms part of the William Collins, Sons & Co Ltd finding aid (UGD 243) consisting of the records of that company and its related/subsidiary companies Manual file level list available at the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S)3040) and London (NRA31886)

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Archivist's Note

Fonds level description compiled by Hannah Westall, Archives Assistant, 20 March 2000.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Archivist.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures

Custodial History

Held by William Collins Sons & Co Ltd, Glasgow


None expected

Related Material

William Collins Sons Co Ltd had a number of subsidiary and related companies who records are also held in Glasgow University Archives: GB 248 UGD 243/2 Records of Hatchards Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/3 Records of Monkton Trust (Scotland) Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/4 Records of Harvill Press Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/5 Records of Provanside Factory Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/6 Records of Pollockshields Printing Services Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/8 Records of Granada Publishing Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/13 Records of Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/14 Records of MacGibbon & Kee Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/16 Records of Adlard Coles Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/17 Records of Mayflower Books Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/18 Records of Arco Publications Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/20 Records of The Ancient House Bookshop (Ipswich) Ltd, GB 248 UGD 243/22 Records of Staples Press Ltd

Material in other repositories: no material associated by provenance

Location of Originals

This material is original


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