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 Beecher 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 with George’s  four sons Sampson, Alban, Joshua and Jacob taking control as directors.  Outlining their future vision for the next century, George declared: ‘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.’

34 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

      • I have a beautiful book fro 1908 called Abdullah or the four leafed clover it is a translation
        Any idea of value
        It doesn’t matter just curious
        Spine a bit worn

  4. Dear all, u hope you will help me! I have the first Dutch editions of Noddie 1969, 1,3,4,5,6,8 and on 8 the number is misplaced (above, the number is upsite down). Also I own number 9, 11 and 12 but these are not so special. All the books are (good) used. But as you know the first numbers I ment to you are very special. I know that there are a few UK citicans who would love to own these books. Will you please be so kind to advise me? Thank you in advance, kind regards.

  5. Hello Sirs; I have a copy of Sailing Alone Around The Word, Slocum, dated 1900, SLM&C, Limited,St Dunstan’s House , Fetter Lane , Fleet Street, E.C. 1900 (all rights reserved). Coulld you possibly tell me about this volume? How many, when exactly, etc. Thank you so much. I have a lovely copy, and I am a Slocum collector but can find no information? Thank you, Art

    • Hello Art, I’m afraid the company was out of our family control at this date so we have no files in our archive relating to Sailing Alone Around the World. The rest of the Sampson Low archive was destroyed in the blitz so again I don’t think you’ll get much joy there either. Sorry I can’t help more. Alban

  6. Hello. I’m researching for a biography of the Afghan writer Ikbal Ali Shah. Sampson Low published several of his books both under his own name and under pseudonyms in the 1930s. I see your earlier comment about some of the company archives being destroyed in the Blitz. Would this include those from the 1930s? Or might I be able to find some records from that period? Thanks very much

    • Hi Jason, Unfortunately we lost the whole archive. All we have are the personal letters to and from the Low family. I’ll ask my father who may recollect any correspondence. Sorry I couldn’t help more. Alban

  7. Hello,

    Doing some research on some images that were published in the 4th edition of Charles Washingtons Eves “The West Indies” (1897). SO sad to read above about the archives! I’m wondering if any surviving staff or family members might recall the studio (?) names “W.M.H. Ward & Co” and “Commerce”. These were inscribed in-plate of the images used throughout this book. Hoping someone can verify if these studios worked regularly with Sampson, Low, &. Co. to determine if the images were inserted under author’s direction or by will of publisher to help understand the context. Any information or suggestions on where else to look would be hugely appreciated as I’ve been hunting online for days.

    Thank you!

    • Hello Alex,
      I’ll ask my dad (George Low) who can usually point me in the right direction. Although I need to warn you it’s a long shot. Good luck with the research, Alban

  8. Thanks so much, Alban! I know it’s a long shot…but still worth trying, especially if you’ve still got a living generation that might just recall some clues! Really appreciate it, Alex

  9. Greetings. I am a member of an online Facebook group, The Jeffery
    > Farnol Appreciation Society. A recent query has been posed as to publishing
    > statistics for the publisher Sampson & Low for the title The Broad Highway, by
    > Jeffery Farnol. This would be for the years 1909-1913. Are there statistics
    > for the production run by title for Sampson & Low for these years. Thank you.

  10. I recently came across a music video which I believe very briefly shows a picture of Sampson Low, Sr. If I sent you a screenshot of the picture, could you possibly identity the image?

  11. Hello, I have a beautiful old book here with Sampson low & Co listed in the back as the publishers I think.
    Its titled Fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson and Dated 1871
    Can you tell me any information you have on this book ? do you know its value ?

    • Hello Benjamin,
      I’m sorry to say all our archives were destroyed in the Blitz of WWII.
      So haven’t any more information sorry. I’m not aware of the current market value of this book but I see there is a Sampson Low edition available for around £10 on Abe Books.
      Sorry I can’t help more,

  12. Hello,
    I am wondering if you could help me with some advice on where I might find a copy of Yvonne Perrin’s The Sad Little Mernaid.
    Any advice or direction appreciated.
    Thank you,

  13. Did you publish a history book with an engraved armoured knight on the front cover, with old map of London on the inside cover? Illustrated throughout. Colour. Circa 1950 – 1960s…

    Been looking for book for years as lost original and cant remember the name etc

  14. Hello
    I am trying to date a very fine (limited edition) book I have “The Rivals” by Sheridan, published by Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington Limited of St Dunstan’s House Fetter Lane, Fleet St, London. With the evolution of Samson Low’s partnerships I wonder whether this combination of names would enable me to establish, at least, a range of potential publication years? Ideally if I’m lucky someone might even know of an exact year for the book?
    Best wishes to all

  15. Hello,
    Around 1885 you published a translation of Juan Valera’s work “Pepita Jimenez” by Yvan Theodore called “Don Luis or the church militant”. I would like to know if it would be possible to access those documents, information, letters, etc. Was there any contact with Juan Valera for the publishing? Thank you very much.

  16. I have an edition of Louisa M. Alcott’s Jo’s Boys, dated 1886 and published by Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington. Is this a true 1st Edition (?) or was it first published by another company? (I note that Roberts Brothers, Boston, also apparently published it that year).
    Thank You in advance.

  17. Hi Alban,
    Hope you can assist with a question about a publication date.
    I have the 39th edition of Lorna Doone by R.D Blackmore. I have been trying to find out what year it was published.

    I’ve no intention of sellimg as its wonderful, hope you can provide any insights to age, please

    • Hello Tracy, unfortunately all our archives were destroyed in the Blitz. So we haven’t go the reference material to check for you. A quick search on Abe Books suggests the publication date was 1893. Thank you for getting in touch, Alban

  18. Hello, I have a copy of “Beginning Again” by L M Alcott with a red cover and would like to know in what year it was edited. Thank you very much, kind regards

    • Hello, thank you for getting in touch. Unfortunately our archive was destroyed in the Blitz, so we don’t have any other copies of Beginning Again to compare it to. I can see 2 or 3 of these for sale online at Abe Books, dating between 1875 and 1910. Good luck with your search, Alban

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