Collins English Dictionary

88 – First edition of the Collins English Dictionary


FOUNDED in 1819, William Collins & Sons published a range of Bibles, atlases, dictionaries and reissued classics.

However, it is the Collins English Dictionary that it is perhaps best known for, given its role in documenting our constantly evolving language.

The history of this famous publisher began in Glasgow, when William Collins went into business with Charles Chalmers to establish a printing and publishing business.

Millworker Collins, a Glasgow man, set up the company for printing and publishing pamphlets, sermons, hymn books and prayer books.

The first book he published was the Christian and Civic Economy of Large Towns.

The company expanded over the years to include legendary authors such as H. G. Wells, Agatha Christie, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis.

An archive of letters between staff and some of these authors gives a unique insight into the relationship between writers and publishers.

In one letter from 1938, Tolkien said his new book was coming on abysmally slowly.

He wrote: “I squandered so much on the original Hobbit (which was not meant to have a sequel) that it is difficult to find anything new in that world.”

The company set up its first printing press in the ancient Candleriggs area of Glasgow.
However, it was following a move to new premises in Bishopbriggs in the 1970s that it published the first Collins English Dictionary in 1979.

The dictionary continues to chart the development of the English language, adding new words such as selfie and photobomb, with each new edition.