Feature June 2014

Views and Souvenirs of Thomas Nelson

Thomas Nelson (1760-1861) founded his book printing and publishing business in Edinburgh in the early 1800s, adding a London office in 1844 and was the first British publishing company to set up an office in the US, in New York. By that stage his two sons, William and Thomas, were running the business. The younger Thomas was the inventor of the rotary printing press and, by 1854, they were the biggest printing business in Scotland.

The cover of Thomas Nelson's book Souvenir of Edinburgh

The company’s output of books was prodigious and, from 1855 onwards, they introduced colour illustrations into them. Most of their books were for children and included adventure stories and nursery rhymes. The company, one of the largest printing and publishing companies in the world in its time, continued until 1968.

They published pictorial guides to cities and regions, mostly British, but occasionally overseas, produced in the second half of the 19th Century. These were designed to be bought by tourists and, perhaps, to encourage travel to those places.

The books generally have 12 plates, with descriptive text. They are almost all about the size of a postcard, sometimes in portrait, sometimes in landscape. Two bumper editions were produced in the 1890s; Souvenir of Scotland and Souvenir of England. Each contains ten sets of ‘views’ so has 120 plates in total

Trafalgar Square by Thomas Nelson
Trafalgar Square by Thomas Nelson

The first colour illustrations they produced were ‘three-coloured’. By the 1860s, they had progressed to chromolithography, producing full colour prints.