Foulis Press collection at St Andrews

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Over 150 items printed by the Foulis Press rediscovered

One of the last big hurdles nearing the completion of the full cataloguing of the Typographical British collection was the Glasgow portion (ca. 350 bibliographic items, 240 physical volumes). Unbeknownst to me, this portion of the collection would take me on a chronological exploration of the output of the Foulis Press. The Foulis Press is the collective title given to the output of brothers Robert (1707-1776) and Andrew Foulis (1712-1775), and Robert’s son Andrew (1756-1829) as booksellers, printers and publishers.

Robert Foulis began work as a book importer and seller in the 1730’s in Glasgow, and by 1740 he had established his business within the University of Glasgow (St Andrews has three of the thirteen books listed in Philip Gaskell’s A bibliography of the Foulis Press printed for the Foulis brothers in this early period of their business, and two that are not listed in Gaskell: both are medical dissertations found TypBE.D34RS, #’s 20 & 22). In 1742, Robert extended his business by establishing a printing press, from which St Andrews has the first item printed: an English translation of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. By 1744, Robert had been admitted as printer to the University of Glasgow and his brother Andrew had joined the business. Under the auspices of the two brothers, the Foulis Press would output over 600 items over the next 30 years.

The 9cm tall 1761 Foulis printing of Anacreon's Odes (TypBG.D61FA), with a selection of Foulis Press material in the background.

The Foulis Press quickly became known for its quality of printing and selection of classical and philosophical texts.  Robert Foulis had studied under Francis Hutcheson at Glasgow and their relationship continued into the Foulis brothers’ printing endeavour: they printed over 40 editions of his work in their time (of which St Andrews has 11; see also the Fantastic Binding post, week 12, for a set of Foulis classics books donated to St Andrews by Hutcheson). Another famous story of the Foulis brothers’ work is their 1744 “Immaculate Horace”, of which, as legend has it, the proofs were hung in the College, and a reward of £50 was offered to anyone who could find any errors (six errors were found some time later).

Title page of the Foulis "Immaculate Horace" (St Andrews copy at TypBG.D44FH).

The work of the Foulis Press was carried on by Robert’s son, Andrew, from 1776-1800, although the output of the press during this time never quite reached they heydays of the Foulis brothers in the 1750s. Having now finished the cataloguing of the Glasgow portion of the Typographical collection, we have a much clearer picture of just how many Foulis items we have. St Andrews has close to 160 different items printed by the Foulis Press listed by Gaskell, we have 140 items that list Robert Foulis as printer, 110 that list Andrew Foulis as printer, and 24 that list Andrew Foulis, the younger, as printer. Some of these items are also found in other collections, mainly the collections of James David Forbes and George Hay Forbes. The selection of materials that St Andrews has in its collections spans the output of the Foulis Press and provides an example of almost every year of the Press’s operation.


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