Mills & Boon – Archive and Library
Gerard Mills and Charles Boon established the publishing firm of Mills & Boon in 1908. Both men had previously worked at Methuen, Mills as education director and Boon as sales manager, before joining forces to establish their own firm. They were experienced publishers bringing differing skills and interests to their new venture: Mills’ interests lay in non-fiction and book production, whilst Boon focused on sales and advertising and developing the fiction list.
Compulsory education had increased literacy producing a growth in reading and a boom in the book market. The firm started out as a general publisher with educational textbooks, socialist tracts and Shakespeare on their lists. Mills & Boon also published travel guides, children’s and craft books as well as a variety of fiction books.
Mills & Boon’s contracted 123 books for its first year, the first publication being Arrows from the Dark, a romance novel by Sophie Cole. Described by many as less than heart-racing in content, it sold well and Cole would write for the firm for many years. Romance was not, however, to be the genre of choice at this time. In the early days, Mills & Boon began experimenting with different book series including Mills & Boon’s Laughter Library of one shilling titles, the Companion Series with volumes such as The Lady Motorist’s Companion, The Amateur Actor’s Companion and The Aviator’s Companion. Shilling Shockers included The Phantom of the Opera by Guston Leroux and The Kingdom of Earth by Anthony Partridge. They also introduced the ‘June 15 Novel’; debut novels were published on this date each year with great sales success, creating a flurry of manuscripts sent in by aspiring authors.
One of the firm’s earliest successful authors was Jack London, whose adventure books they published between 1912 and 1923. London, well-known for his novels White Fang and Call of the Wild, helped considerably in the firm’s early success both in sales and reputation. Mills & Boon contracted London from 1911, accepting everything sent their way and publishing at least three editions of every title at several prices.
The 1920s proved to be a difficult time for Mills & Boon as the company struggled to keep up with the big publishers, and they began to re-think their business. The company noticed their readers’ growing demand for escapism during the Depression, the most popular form being romance novels. Notably bestselling novels were largely penned by female authors and bought by women. A clear direction was being taken to publish books by women for women. By 1930, Mills & Boon had made the shift from general press to romance publisher.
After Gerard Mills died in 1928, Charles Boon recruited his family to the business, including his three sons: Charles, Alan and John. Alan Boon helped to create the firm’s stylized romances by selecting established female writers already publishing in women’s magazines like Women’s Weekly to write for Mills & Boon. John Boon would eventually take over as managing director in 1964.
By the outbreak of the Second World War, Mills & Boon became a ‘library house,’ publishing for lending libraries and Boots Booklovers Library, and extended their readership significantly. When commercial libraries began to decline in the late 1950s, the company knew it had to ensure their books remained easily accessible and found alternative places to sell their books, such as newsagents, supermarkets and through mail order.
In 1971, Mills & Boon merged with Harlequin Books, a Canadian publisher, to create Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. Mills & Boon remains a subsidiary of Harlequin Enterprises Ltd, which operates as a division of HarperCollins.
Reference: MB Date: 1910-2008 Extent: 354 files
The Mills & Boon archive collection contains the editorial correspondence of both John Boon and Alan Boon, script registers, publicity material and some administrative records. It covers the period 1910-2008, with the bulk of the records covering 1924-1975.
- A full description is available on our online database.
- A handlist for the whole collection can be found here.
- See also the Mills & Boon website.
- The Mills & Boons archive featured in a Special Collections online exhibition highlighting the works of Betty Beaty and Violet Winspear.
- See also the David and Betty Beaty Archive at the University of Leeds. Betty Beaty was a successful Mills & Boon author.
Call Number: MILLS & BOON COLLECTION Date: c. 1909-2011 Extent: approx. 4,300 volumes
Special Collections holds a large proportion of the back catalogue of Mills & Boon books, from the very first title in 1909 through to the 21st century.
- The books are catalogued and searchable on the online catalogue.
- Images of the dust jackets are available via the University of Reading’s Virtual Reading Room.
- See also the Cole Library for a collection of Sophie Cole’s books. Professor Francis J. Cole was Sophie’s brother.
- Special Collections holds the very first copy of the very first publication ever sold by Mills & Boons. It is a copy of Sophie Cole’s Arrows from the Dark (call number Mills & Boon Collection – 1909/01) and was featured on our blog.