William Collins, Sons
Parent companyHarperCollins
FounderWilliam Collins
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Headquarters locationGlasgow, Scotland
Publication typesBooks
Official websitecollins.co.uk

William Collins, Sons & Co., often referred to as Collins, was a Scottish printing and publishing company founded by a Presbyterian schoolmaster, William Collins, in Glasgow in 1819, in partnership with Charles Chalmers, the younger brother of Thomas Chalmers, the minister of Tron Church in Glasgow.[1]

Collins merged with Harper & Row in 1990, forming a new publisher named HarperCollins.


The firm published its first dictionary, Greek and English Lexicon, in 1824. The company had to overcome many early obstacles, and Charles Chalmers left the business in 1825. The first series of Collins Illustrated Dictionaries appeared in 1840, including the Sixpenny Pocket Pronouncing Dictionary, which sold approximately 1 million copies.[2] By 1841 Collins was established as a printer of Bibles. In 1846, Collins retired and his son Sir William Collins took over. In 1848, the firm developed as a publishing venture, specialising in religious and educational books. In 1856, the first Collins atlas was published. The company was renamed William Collins, Sons and Co Ltd. in 1868.[3] (The Library of Congress reports W. Collins & Co., or William Collins & Company, Collins & Co., etc., before "sometime in the 1860s", then "William Collins Sons and Co."[4])

Although the early emphasis of the company had been on religion and education, Collins also published more widely. In 1917, with Sir Godfrey Collins in charge, the firm started publishing fiction. Collins Crime Club (1930–94)[5] published all but the first six of Agatha Christie's novels, starting in 1926, as well as the British editions of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books and many others from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Upon purchasing the rights to the works of C. S. Lewis, Fount was established as Collins's religion imprint.

Collins ultimately became a diverse and prolific company, publishing a wide range of titles, including many aimed at a juvenile audience, such as the books of Dr. Seuss (in the Commonwealth) and Racey Helps in the 1950s. By the late 1970s, Collins was also responsible for publishing the long-running American Children's Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series in the United Kingdom. These were firstly published in a series of digest size hardbacks akin to their American style. Paperbacks (of a 'normal' rather than 'digest' size) soon followed from Collins' Armada Books imprint, although the series as published in Great Britain follow a different numbering system to the accepted American one. Collins's Armada Books imprint also published similar series, such as the Three Investigators, alongside such British stalwarts as Biggles, Billy Bunter, and Paddington Bear, and such well-loved authors as Enid Blyton, Malcolm Saville and Diana Pullein-Thompson.

In the years 1941-49 Collins published Britain in Pictures, a series of social history books which were designed to boost morale during the Second World War. Authors included George Orwell, John Piper, Neville Cardus, Cecil Beaton, Vita Sackville-West, David Low, Francis Meynell, Edith Sitwell, Graham Greene and John Betjeman.[6][7][8]

Collins founded its New Naturalist series of nature books relevant to the British Isles in 1945, with Butterflies by E. B. Ford. Three volumes appeared in the summer of 2015.[9]

In 1953, Collins launched its Fontana Books series.[10] Later Fontana Books became a Collins imprint complete with its own series, including the Fontana Monarchs, the Fontana African Fiction series[11] and, from 1970, the Fontana Modern Masters,[12] a series of pocket guides to influential writers, philosophers and other thinkers and theorists of the twentieth century. Other William Collins, Sons, imprints included Fontana Lions and Fontana Young Lions, which published books for children and teenagers, and Grafton Books.[13]

In 1965 Collins began publication of The Companion Guides, a series of illustrated travel guides to France, the Mediterranean lands and the British Isles.[14]

In the mid 1970s, Collins had either closed or moved most of its printing operations out of its historic site in the Townhead area of Glasgow. The land and buildings were purchased by the University of Strathclyde who redeveloped much of the site, with the massive warehouse building on Cathedral Street being converted into a new home for the Andersonian Library in 1980.

News Corporation acquired a 40% stake in 1981. In 1983, Collins acquired the publishing operations of Granada. News Corporation became sole owner in 1989. In 1990, the company was merged with US publisher Harper & Row to form HarperCollins.[15] Collins became an imprint of HarperCollins.

On 8 February 2013 it was announced that some parts of the Collins non-fiction imprint would be merged with the HarperPress imprint to form a new William Collins imprint.[16]

Collins Education

Collins Education, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, is the third-largest educational publishing house in the United Kingdom.

It publishes print and interactive digital products for primary and secondary teachers in the United Kingdom and internationally.

In 2010, Collins Education acquired Belair Creative, a British publisher specialising in art and design resources for British primary students; Letts and Lonsdale,[17] a major UK publisher of revision guides; and Leckie & Leckie, a Scottish educational publisher.[18]

In 2011, Collins Education launched Collins Online Learning, an online learning platform for students and teachers.[19]


  1. ^ Records of William Collins, Sons and Co Ltd, publishers, Glasgow, Scotland, Archives Hub, archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  2. ^ History of Collins' dictionary publishing, at Collinsdictionary.com
  3. ^ Keir, David (1952). The House of Collins: The Story of a Scottish Family of Publishers from 1789 to the Present Day. Collins: London. ISBN B00005XH0X.
  4. ^ "Library of Congress LCCN Permalink nr2001016410". Retrieved 31 May 2021. LCCN nr20-10164
  5. ^ Collins Crime Club: A Brief History by R.D. Collins, 2004. classiccrimefiction.com, 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2013. Archived here.
  6. ^ Collecting the Britain in Pictures series, abebooks.com. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  7. ^ Buying into Britain in Pictures, theguardian.com, 16 October 2009. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  8. ^ Publishing History > Britain in Pictures - Book Series List, publishinghistory.com. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  9. ^ No. 128, Lakes, Loughs and Lochs by Brian Moss; No. 129, Alien Plants by Clive A. Stace and Michael J. Crawley; No. 130, Yorkshire Dales by John Lee. (The New Naturalists Online Retrieved 31 May 2021)
  10. ^ Richard Williams, FONTANA BOOKS, 1-500: 1953-1961, South Humberside, Dragonby Press, 1997 (British Paperback Checklist, 14).
  11. ^ Josh MacPhee, 251: Fontana Africa (compiled), justseeds.org. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  12. ^ Fontana Modern Masters, fontanamodernmasters.org. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  13. ^ David Leigh, "MI5 officers break silence on Blunt", The Observer, 26 October 1986, p. 2.
  14. ^ Violet Grant, "France for the English", The Daily Telegraph (London), 26 July 1963, p. 17.
  15. ^ Cohen, Roger (11 June 1990). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS; Birth of a Global Book Giant". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  16. ^ Farrington, Joshua (8 February 2013). "HarperCollins merges non-fiction divisions". Bookseller. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  17. ^ "Letts Sold to HarperCollins". The Bookseller. 4 March 2010.
  18. ^ Leckie & Leckie
  19. ^ Collins Online Learning

Further reading