FreedBook  Published 2012

Published 2012

Sampson  Low – publishing for more than 200 years

In  1793, the year when the French Revolution broke out in France,  a  young printer in London named Sampson Low published a beautifully  illustrated prayer book and the first of many novels by famous  writers.  He was a man of remarkable energy setting up his own  printing and publishing company in Soho, but sadly he died in 1800  leaving his business to his son Sampson who was only three years old.   When the young boy grew up he worked for Longmans the publisher  before re-establishing his father’s family name again in London’s  Lambs Conduit Street together with a handsome bookshop and library.

The business grew from strength to  strength and Sampson Low became an international publishing figure  with business connections in the United States and Australia.  He was  one of the key publishers in setting up the first international  copyright agreement and the net book agreement with booksellers  across the United Kingdom.  A collection of letters from the heyday  of Sampson Low in the early 1860s, which is now held in the Open  University library,  shows a fascinating array of Mid-Victorian  literary figures on his writers’ and readers’ list.  There are  about 200 letters in all and they have never been published from such  writers as Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott,  Anthony Trollope,  Alfred Lord Tennyson,  William Makepeace Thackeray,  Richard  Blackmore, Mrs Gaskell and Lady Noel Byron.

There are several from eminent  politicians of that era too:  W.E.Gladstone, John Bright, Henry  Mayhew and Lord Shaftesbury.  There too are the scribblings of such  worthy and well-known figures as Florence Nightingale, the Duke of  Wellington and Robert E. Lee. Turn the pages on and you will find  such divine and saintly names as those of Cardinal Newman, Charles  Kingsley and John Stuart Mill, the philosopher.  There are famed  artists, too, such as John Everett Millais and George Cruikshank,  many of whom illustrated his publications.  You will also stumble  across immortal American names as well, such as Oliver Wendell  Holmes, Wilkie Collins,  Ralph Waldo Emerson and Harriet Beacher  Stowe.

Under Sampson Low’s leadership the  publishing business thrived and survived for 60 years,  but as he  grew older he relied more on his three sons – Sampson, William and Walter.  He also took on a promising associate editor named Edward  Marston in his main office on Ludgate Hill beneath St Paul’s  Cathedral.  But sadly his three sons all died before he did in 1886  and Marston took over the firm.  Marston recalled his old boss as ‘a  man of unusual zeal and untiring energy, but although he possessed  excellent business qualities, he was not the man to accumulate a  large fortune in trade.  His zeal and energy took a less selfish and  more philanthropic turn. He was a deeply religious man and perhaps  never so happy as when engaged in Sunday duties as a school teacher,  or in superintending some good work for the benefit of the poor of  his neighbourhood’.  Among his charitable works he set up the  Booksellers’ Provident Association and left them a handsome legacy.   With his son Sampson he also set up the ‘Royal Society for the  Protection of Life from Fire’, a charitable society that saved  thousands of lives and became the basis of the London Fire Brigade.

After Sampson died, the firm  continued to publish as Sampson Low, Marston and Co. and it  flourished well into the Edwardian age. The Low family had lost their  involvement with the company, but Sampson Low Marston remained a  separate publishing house until the end of the Second World War. For  more than 100 years its regular publication of Jane’s Fighting  Ships was eagerly read and recorded by navies all over the world. The  shortage of paper after the war made life hard for book publishers;   even so Sampson Low published such famous children’s authors and  romantic novelists as Enid Blyton and Jeffery Farnol.  But in 1950  the company was taken over by Purnells, the printers of its novels in  Somerset,  and became part of the British Printing Corporation (BPC).

However, the media mogul Robert  Maxwell bought up the parent corporation BPC in 1981 as part of his  over-ambitious publishing empire. Over the next 10 years Sampson Low  Ltd was systematically asset-stripped with all its publications being  either sold off or closed down.   Maxwell himself fell from his yacht  and drowned off the Canary Islands on 5 November 1991 and his whole  empire was declared bankrupt a year later.  Sampson Low was offered  for sale for a few thousand pounds; then, when nobody offered to buy  it, the company was wound up and de-registered exactly 200 years  after it was first founded. The family name was dead … or was it?

George Low, one of the direct  descendants of the founder,  discovered the remains of the  dismembered company at Companies House in Cardiff – and brought it  back to life by re-registering Sampson Low Ltd in October 1997.  A  journalist, editor and publisher,  George had worked for both BPC and  Longmans and had watched with growing horror as Maxwell dismembered  and destroyed his family firm.  The Lows now own the company again  with his wife Sally as company secretary and his four sons –  Sampson, Alban, Joshua and Jacob – as the directors.  Outlining  their future vision for the next century,  George declares: ‘With  this new chapter in the history of Sampson Low Ltd, we hope to revive  the great days of our Victorian ancestors; to draw a line under the  sleazy scandals of the Maxwell regime; and to launch out with  confident creativity into the internet era.’


5 thoughts on “About

  1. Dear reader,

    I have a book Jane’s all the world”s aircraft edition 1943 – 1944.
    In the book is written Vissers AC/2 RAF 279682
    A brother in law foud the book 45 years ago under an elevator
    in a building in the city of Eindhoven, Holland.

    The book is in a good condition.
    I would like to kow what is the actual price of that book????

    I thank you very much for your answer.

    Willem Kruf

  2. Dear Mr Lowe.
    I wonder if you could spare me some of your precious time by helping me as I am trying to research your families history connection with the Enid Blyton Noddy books.
    I have recently found 6 large printed sheets 60cm x50cm double sided with the story of Noddy and the magic Rubber. There is a number 1325 and then Samson Low, Marston &Co 1954 underneath. I contacted the Enid Blyton society and they are confused as they said your family did not put a date on the Noddy books untill 1958 . These 6 sheets came in between some Kodak glass photographic plates of Sootys pop up book from BBCs Watch with Mother .I am wondering if these 6 pages are off cuts from the original printing process?
    Looking forward hopefully to your reply .
    Regards .
    Janet kent

  3. Dear Sir,

    I own a copy of Jules Verne’s novel “The Floating Island”,
    The book is in good condition and in hard cover.
    I couldn’t find the edition number but the book was honored to a student in 1934.
    I would like to know it’s value.
    Thank you very much.

    • Hi Lina, I know it’s a cliché but the book is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it. Early editions can fetch prices in the thousands while more recent Sampson Low editions are in the £15-20 range. Hope that helps, Alban Low

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