John Menzies: business values & vision

Who: John Menzies
Job: Founder of John Menzies Plc
Where: Edinburgh
When: 1833
Archive: National Library of Scotland

John Menzies' private cashbook, 1833-1857.

John Menzies’ private cashbook, 1833-1857.

‘I commenced business in May 1833’

These are the opening words in John Menzies’ (1808-1879) private cashbook, the earliest record in the business archive of this well-known Scottish company which has been recently donated to the National Library of Scotland (NLS).

John Menzies opened his first shop at 61 Princes St. as a bookseller, stationer and printseller. He was the first in Edinburgh to sell ‘The Scotsman’ over the counter. Although he made a very small profit in his first year in business, Menzies’ fortunes changed when in the 1840s he secured contracts with major London publishers and began the wholesale Scottish distribution of titles such as ‘The Punch’, Charles Dickens’ ‘Pickwick Papers’, and the works of Wordsworth and Thackeray. The amounts recorded in his private cashbook reflect the steady growth and success of the business.

With the advent of the railway in the 1850s, Menzies identified new opportunities for expansion and in 1857 bookstalls opened at Perth, Stirling and Bridge of Allan stations. Others followed on all East of Scotland lines between Edinburgh and Aberdeen and later on at every mainline station in Scotland. By the 1960s Menzies bookstalls could be seen at 357 locations throughout the UK.

Menzies’ visionary approach to business drove the company even further when it moved into mass and prompt distribution of daily newspapers and stationery in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century. Under the chairmanship of John M. Menzies (1926-2007), former NLS trustee, the company experienced a period of vigorous expansion which transformed it into a major player on the national and international stage in the 21st century.

The business records of John Menzies chart the history and development of this firm since its creation in 1833 until its venture into the aviation support services industry. Furthermore, they are testament to the values of innovation, integrity, sound financial management and diversification which underpin Scottish business history.

NLS John Menzies Diary for BooksellersJohn Menzies diary for booksellers, newsagents and stationers, 1939. Shelfmark: T.D. 3521.

The records of John Menzies, bookseller and stationer (Shelfmark: T.D. 3521) is just one of the many business archive collections held by the NLS. NLS has strong collections for the printing and publishing industry but also holds many other business archive collections. Find out more about them here.

Keep up to date with the NLS on twitter @natlibscot.

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