Similar to my research on the London publisher Henry King Lewis there is no difficulty in finding information about the firm and books they published, but details about the principals involved are very sketchy. Whereas covers sent to the firms in London are not uncommon, but in the case of Houlston, an early cover sent to the Wellington address has not been seen.
The first an advertising cover for the E.W. Cole firm of Melbourne publisher and book seller (described in a previous paper on E.W. Cole) has a red on yellow 2½d stamp of Victoria cancelled in Melbourne in 1896 and addressed to Messrs Houlston & Sons, Publishers, Paternoster Square, London (Figure 1).
The next a Sydney cover in 1901 is addressed to Messrs Houlston & Sons, 7 Paternoster Bldg, London, E.C. (Figure 2).
The third is addressed to Messrs Houlston & Sons, Publishers, London and ‘Pub Buildings’ has been added in blue crayon. The blue 2½d Western Australian stamp is cancelled with a Mt.
(——- ) duplex in 1902 with a backstamp of Perth 2 days later and arrival in London E.C. one month later (Figures 3 & 4).
The last was postmarked with a 1903 Sydney duplex on a blue 2½d N.S.W. stamp and the cover was addressed to the company as ‘Booksellers’, Paternoster Square, London E.C., England (Figure 5).
The most interesting publication during the time before the firm located in London was Robinson Crusoe. There were two distinct editions in 1806, one printed at Wellington and Iron Bridge and the other at Wellington, alone. In both of these editions the book was printed and sold by the firm which was identified as F. Houlston & Son, and it was also sold by Crosby and Co., Paternoster Row, London. The Wellington and Iron Bridge edition is shown first and the Wellington edition is shown next, and there are other minor differences in print (Figures 6 & 7).
The New Robinson Crusoe for children of both sexes was published in London, printed for Houlston and Co, 65 Paternoster-Row and the date of publication was ca. 1835 (Figure 8).
The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe published in 1863 was the first of these four editions to display the name of the author (Daniel De Foe) on the frontispiece and London, Houlston and Sons, Paternoster Square is given as the publisher (Figure 9).
There is some confusion as to the history of this publishing company’s principals, and Frances Houston was identified as a man, incorrectly.. Edward Houlston founded a bookshop in the Market Square, Wellington, Shropshire in 1779, but it was not until his death in 1800, when his widow Frances took over the business that the firm began to publish. Their earliest imprint is from 1804 and Frances was in partnership with her son, who had just finished a printing apprenticeship. It has been speculated that the son (also Edward) had married his master’s widow and inherited the printing machinery. The firm prospered becoming the largest publisher of books in the area, with mother Frances at least the nominal head of firm, starting with the local curate’s sermons as well as religious books by other ministers, followed by Robinson Crusoe in 1806, and numerous children’s books popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The Houlstons became quite well off so that they were the main donors for the building of a Baptist chapel in 1826. The same year Edward’s son Edward headed off to London to open a branch in Paternoster Row, the heart of Britain’s publishing industry.
Houlston’s London business produced a plethora of religious works as well as The Family Doctor – A Complete Encyclopedia of Domestic Medicine (1859) and The Cricket Bat and How to Use It (1863). The firm entered partnership with two men, and after the partnership was disbanded in 1870, the firm was known as Houlston and Sons. The Houlston imprint and the firm name itself disappeared in 1906, a century after its Shropshire forebear started in Wellington.
Publishing in Wellington’s Market Square had ceased in 1840 with the death of the second Edward Houlston. The firm remained printers and booksellers, serving as an agent for its London firm until 1850 when John Houlston became an auctioneer and the business became Hobsons until the 1980s, and the building now houses a travel agency.