Map, William Blackwood and Sons, China and Japan, #29, c1873
Cartographer: W & A.K Johnston
Publisher: Blackwood Willian and Sons
Image Size: 465 x 370mm
Print size: 430 x 325mm
Description: Lithograph printed in colour
William Blackwood and Sons was a Scottish publishing house and printer founded by William Blackwood in 1804. It played a key role in literary history, publishing many important authors, both in books and in the monthly Blackwood’s Magazine
In 1804, William Blackwood opened a shop in South Bridge Street, Edinburgh, for the sale of old, rare and curious books. He undertook the Scottish agency for John Murray and other London publishers, and gradually drifted into publishing on his own account, moving in 1816 to Princes Street. On 1 April 1817 the first number of the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine was published, which on its seventh number became Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. "Maga," as this magazine soon came to be called, was the organ of the Scottish Tory party, and round it gathered a host of able writers.
In May 1824 Blackwood's became the first British literary journal to publish work by an American with an essay by John Neal that got reprinted across Europe. Over the following year and a half the magazine published Neal's "American Writers" series, which is the first written history of American literature. The relationship between Blackwood and Neal fell apart over Neal's novel Brother Jonathan, which Blackwood published at a loss in late 1825.
In 1829 he wrote to his son William in India telling him that he was moving from Princes Street to 45 George Street as George Street was "becoming more and more a place of business and the east end of Princes Street is now like Charring Cross, a mere place for coaches". His brother Thomas bought 43 and in 1830 Thomas Hamilton remodelled the entire frontage of the pair for the Blackwood Brothers or Messrs. Blackwood. Thomas' shop operated as a silk merchant.
William Blackwood died in 1834 and is buried in an ornate vault in the lower western section of Old Carlton Cemetery. He was succeeded by his two sons, Alexander and Robert, who added a London branch to the firm. In 1845 Alexander Blackwood died, and shortly afterwards Robert.
A younger brother, John Blackwood succeeded to the business; four years later he was joined by Major William Blackwood, who continued in the firm until his death in 1861. In 1862 the major's elder son, William Blackwood (born 1836), was taken into partnership. On the death of John Blackwood, William Blackwood junior was left in sole control of the business. With him were associated his nephews, George William and JH Blackwood, sons of Major George Blackwood, who was killed at the battle Maiwand, the second Anglo-Afgan War in 1880.
The last member of the Blackwood family to run the company was Douglas Blackwood. During World War 11, Blackwood was a fighter pilot and at the height of the Battle of Britain recalled looking down from 25,000 feet to see the firm's London office in Paternoster Row ablaze. Millions of books were lost in the fire and the destruction of Blackwood's base in the City of London marked the beginning of the firm's decline. He retired in 1976 and by 1980 the firm had amalgamated.
To read more, see Annals of a Publishing House; William Blackwood and his Sons ... (1897–1898), the first two volumes of which were written by Mrs Oliphant; the third, dealing with John Blackwood, by his daughter, Mrs Gerald Porter.