Elkin Mathews, Charles (publisher) – Archive and Library

Mathews’ shopfront at 6b Vigo Street as it appeared in an ink drawing, c. 1891 (MS 392/3/2)

Charles Elkin Mathews was born in Gravesend in 1851. As a young man, he served his apprenticeship in the book trade working for Charles John Stewart in London, managing Peach’s library in Bath, and then returning to London to work for the firm of Messrs. Sotheran in Piccadilly. In 1884 he opened an antiquarian and general bookshop at 16 Cathedral Close, Exeter, where he also began his publishing career, joining with other local booksellers in his first venture. In 1887 he arranged with John Lane to move to premises in Vigo Street, Piccadilly, and the firm began business in October of that year.

From 1892 to 1894 he was in partnership with Lane both for selling and publishing books, particularly belles lettres, and their reputation reached its height with the publication of ‘The Yellow Book’ in 1894. Shortly afterwards the partnership was dissolved. Lane began an independent publishing venture under the name of The Bodley Head, which had been the name of the Vigo Street shop.

Mathews continued to sell and publish books, being the first publisher of such authors as W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Robert Bridges. He was a loyal and kind friend to many of the poets and writers whom he published. His love of and commitment to poetry and belles lettres, and support for unknown poets, made him one of the influential small publishers who helped to shape literary developments in Britain between the 1890s and World War I.

In 1912 he moved from Vigo Street to Cork Street. After moving to London in 1887 Mathews lived next door to Yeats in Bedford Park, Chiswick, and subsequently in Chorley Wood, Hertfordshire, where he died on 10 November 1921. He left a widow, Edith Elkin Mathews (nee Calvert), whom he married in 1896, and a daughter.

Archive Collection

Reference: MS 392               Date: c. 1800-1938                Extent: 3 boxes (approx. 650 items)

The bulk of the collection consists of around 500 letters. Most were written to Mathews and concern some aspect of his work. Some were collected by Mathews and relate to literary and antiquarian matters 1811-c.1870. There are 48 letters from John Lane. Other major correspondents include Ernest Radford, Jack Butler Yeats and Richard Le Gallienne. There are also letters from William Butler Yeats, John Trivett Nettleship, Robert Bridges, Charles Henry Daniel, Roden Noel, William Watson and John Davidson, along with three letters from Ezra Pound and one from James Joyce. There is a variety of personal material, including draft reminiscences of Mathews’ life and career. The rest of the collection relates to works published and consists of proofs, cuttings, publicity material, photographs of authors, prints of illustrative material including several by Jack Butler Yeats, and associated printed material.


  • A full description is available on our online database.
  • A handlist for the whole collection can be found here.

Library Collection

Reference: ELKIN MATHEWS COLLECTION                 Date: c. 1800-1938                Extent: c. 400 volumes

The collection contains about 400 printed books published under Elkin Mathews imprints. Authors represented include W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Arthur Symons, John Todhunter, George Egerton (Mary Chavelita Dunne) and Lionel Johnson, and includes books from the Shilling Garland and Vigo Cabinet series publications.

A portion of the collection, as well as some archive materials, were in the possession of Mathews’ widow, Edith, and were acquired from his daughter, Nest Elkin Mathews, in 1966. Additions to the collection from other sources have also been made.


  • The books are fully catalogued and searchable on the online catalogue.
  • Books published under Elkin Mathews imprints can be found in other collections including the Donald Gordon Collection on Yeats
  • Elkin Mathews – poets’ publisher : (1851-1921) : exhibition held in the Library of the University of Reading during the month of May 1967′. [Reading : The Library, 1967]. Special Collections REFERENCE–070.50942-ELK/ELK