A. & C. Black Publishers Ltd. Archive

Reference: ACBDate: c. 1840s-1980sExtent: c. 381 boxes and 103 volumes

The firm of Adam and Charles Black (A. & C. Black) was founded by Adam Black (1784-1874), a Scottish publisher and politician. In 1807, Adam Black opened a bookshop at 57 South Bridge in Edinburgh, which he moved to 27 North Bridge in 1823 as his business began growing. Black published many well-known and important academic works, and in 1827, he acquired the copyright to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In 1834, he brought his nephew, Charles Black (1807-1854), into partnership at the firm, formally establishing A. & C. Black.

With the increasing growth of the business, the firm moved to 6 North Bridge in Edinburgh in 1851. That same year, they purchased the copyright on Sir Walter Scott’s works.

When Adam Black retired in 1870, his three younger sons, James Tait Black (1826-1911), Francis Black (1830-1892) and Adam William Black (1836-1898), who were already in the business with him, took over the firm. Alexander Buchanan McGlashen was made a partner in 1889. A. & C. Black moved to a larger premise called Soho Bazaar located on Soho Square, London in 1889.

Adam Rimmer Black (1865-1936), son of James Tait Black, was brought into partnership in 1891 after the sudden death of McGlashen. W.W. Callender was made a director in 1899 (retiring 1928), and he and Adam Rimmer Black were in charge of the company.

The firm was a partnership from 1807-1914, and then became a public limited company.

A. & C. Black Ltd. was joined by George Wilson in 1920 and H.A. Low in 1928 as directors. Archibald Black, the son of Adam Rimmer Black, joined the firm in 1929 and became a director in 1932. J.D. Newth joined the firm in 1925 and became a director in 1935.

The last of the Black family to join the firm was Charles Archibald Adam Black, son of Archibald Black. He joined the company in 1968 after completing his education and became chairman in 1973 following his father’s retirement. Charles Black remained at the company until 2000, when he sold the firm.

A. & C. Black acquired many other firms during its long and successful history. Around 1930, A. &. C. Black purchased the firms S. W. Partridge & Co. Ltd., which had been founded in 1850, and Gay & Hancock. EP Publishing was purchased by A. & C. Black from Seymour Press in 1983.

The following year, A. & C. Black purchased the firm of Ernest Benn Ltd and acquired the long history of Benn and the many companies they had purchased over the years. Ernest Benn Ltd had published works such as the Moomin books by Tove Jansson and E. Nesbit’s books. In 1926, they had acquired the firm of T. Fisher Unwin, which was the personal publishing business of Thomas Fisher Unwin (1848-1935). They also acquired the firm of Williams & Norgate, founded by Sydney Williams and Frederick Norgate in the 1830s. Ernest Benn Ltd later purchased The Newspaper Press Directory, Mitchell’s in 1949.

A. & C. Black went on to purchase Alphabooks in 1987. Then in July 2000, Bloomsbury Publishing acquired A. & C. Black.

Throughout its history, A. & C. Black published many well-known works. The firm acquired the popular series Who’s Who in 1896. In 1906, it acquired the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and Black’s Medical Dictionary. A.& C. Black also published early P.G. Wodehouse, including Psmith journalist (1915), The Pothunters (1915), Mike: a public school story (1916), and Psmith in the City: a sequel to “Mike” (1919), all of which are available in the library of the Special Collections.

The collection is divided into seven sections: correspondence, administration, agreements, accounts, reviews, company history, and press cuttings. The correspondence series contains letter books and letters with authors and other companies. The administrative records include minutes, staff memoranda, legal papers, records from the different companies purchased, and book files. The agreements include those with authors and agencies and some non-book agreements. The financial accounts include records of royalties, stocks, shares, expenses, and other miscellaneous expenses. The reviews series include volumes of reviews and criticism released in newspapers and other published sources relating to books the company published. The company history series mainly relates to events under the original Adam Black in the 19th century and includes correspondence, agreements with Thomas Underwood, eulogy and testimonial relating to the life and death of Charles Black in 1854, legal documents, and other miscellaneous papers. The press cuttings and advertisements series contains scrap books created from newspaper clippings, catalogues and leaflets, all relating to the company.

Please note the collection is stored off site, so please contact us at least five working days in advance of your visit.

More Information

  • A catalogue is available to search on The National Archives’ catalogue, Discovery: A & C Black Publishers
  • A full description is also available on our online database.
  • A handlist for the whole collection can be found here.