On 15 September 1507, James IV of Scotland granted Walter Chepman, an Edinburgh merchant, and his business partner Androw Myllar, a bookseller, the first royal licence for printing in Scotland. It was put on display by the National Archives of Scotland to mark the 500th anniversay of the grant.
The first printed book from this press with a definite date was a vernacular poem by John Lydgate 'The Complaint of the Black Knight' which was printed on 4 April 1508 on the press they had set up, near what is now Edinburgh's Cowgate. The only known copy is held in the National Library of Scotland's collections. On Friday 4 April 2008 a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the corner of Blackfriars Steet and the Cowgate near the site where Chepman and Myllar's press operated. However, the licence was actually granted to enable the printing of the far more serious 'Aberdeen breviary', a book of Scottish church practices and the lives of local saints, complied by William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen (1431-1514).
Images of the Chepman and Myllar prints are available through the website oa the National Library of Scotland
The Edinburgh University Library website features the Aberdeen Breviary of 1510.
Cambridge University Library have put their fragment of Richard Holland's Buke of the Howlat, printed by Chepman & Myllar in 1508, on the web.
Printing spread gradually through Scotland, with a press established in St Andrews in 1552, a short-lived one in Stirling in 1571 and in Aberdeen in 1622, with other major towns such as Glasgow following later in the seventeenth century. The National Library of Scotland has created a website showing the spread of printing across Scotland.
Other sites of interest include:
- a website highlighting Edinburgh's role as a centre of the printing industry Edinburgh City of Print
- a virtual exhibition at Glasgow University Library
- the Scottish Printing Archival Trust's page on Scotland's printing heritage
- a site on the impact of print on medicine in Scotland Scotland and Medicine in Print
Originally printing techniques were imported from France, where Androw Myllar trained, but in later centuries some Scottish printers were responsible for technical innovations. In the late eighteenth century William Ged invented the stereotyping process, although his attempts to exploit it commercially were a failure and left him embittered, the process has been widely used since.
Thomas Nelson, son of the founder of Thomas Nelson & Sons, invented a rotary press: it was demonstrated at the Great Exhibition of 1855. As he did not patent his invention, he did not reap any financial benefit from an invention from which the newspaper presses in use for the next 100 years were descended.
Alexander Neill Fraser of the printing company Neill & Co, based in Edinburgh was an early pioneer of mechanical typesetting, inventing a machine for typesetting and distributing used type which predated the Monotype and Linotype systems. The machines were not only used in their own works, but were sold elsewhere well into the twentieth century.
World famous printer-publishers based in Scotland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries include Bartholomews, Blackie, Collins and Nelsons. A distinguished name from the eighteenth century is the Foulis Press of Glasgow, which produced beautifully typeset and carefully printed classical texts.
Other resources on the web include:
- the Scottish Archive of Printing and Publishing History and Records (SAPPHIRE project)
- a display of fine Scottish bindings
- the Scottish Book Trade Index
- Napier University's Edward Clark Collection on the history of printing
- the last Cossar press functioning in Scotland at the Strathearn Herald in 1991
- the Bartholomew Archive site
- the Scottish pages of the Britain in print website