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John Smith Bookshop

Text Box: John Smith’s

John Smiths Bookshop stood for as long as I could remember at 57 St. Vincent Street.  It was everything a bookshop ought to be – it smelled of the printed word and induced hushed tones once you had pushed open the heavy door and ventured inside. 

John Smiths started selling books in 1751, which makes it probably the oldest continuously trading bookshop in the UK.  The founder of the bookshop was John Smith (not surprisingly!).  He was the youngest son of the Laird of Craigend, Strathblane and was brought up in Craigend House, in Mugdock, Milngavie

At that time, this was a wise move, because Glasgow had established itself as a centre of excellence in learning and in book printing.  The business thrived and John Smith was instrumental in setting up the first circulating library in Glasgow, in the year 1753.  After about twenty years in the firm’s existence, John’s son joined him and the name became ‘John Smith and Son’.  John Smith the elder left the partnership in 1781, but in 1803, the next generation joined, when John Smith the third joined his father.

In 1787, Burns’s Edinburgh edition of his poems was produced, with John Smith the second being a subscriber and his Glasgow agent.  Burns was most pleased with the amount of commission charged by Smith compared to that charged by his contemporaries in Edinburgh!


The business continued to thrive, having published a collection of sermons by the first Moderator of the Free Church, Dr. Thomas Chalmers which became a bestseller.



Text Box: 57-61 St. Vincent Street

It was full of nooks and crannies, different stairs took you to different levels, stuffed with every type of publication you could think of.  If you needed a reference book, a book by HM Stationery Office, a course book for Uni, a book on history, or travel or any hobbies or just a novel to pass

Since John Smith and Son moved elsewhere, the shop has changed hands many times.  At time of writing (2011) the premises have recently opened as a restaurant

Text Box: Robert Burns Poster from shop

In the 1980s, there was a boom in bookshops and John Smiths opened more shops, including one named ‘Volumes’ in Queen Street.  At this time they closed John B. Wylie and Co. in Sauchiehall Street – the shop where we used to be allowed to choose our own school prize books.  That was another wonderland of books and is also sadly missed.

Unfortunately, the glut of bookshops - especially the huge stores which were able to offer books at discounted prices, caused many casualties, and the number of bookshops shrank again.  In 2000, John Smiths vacated the St. Vincent Street premises.  The name lives on in the bookstores they have at Universities and College sites throughout Glasgow, still providing the students with the academic course books and stationery they need, as well as specialist services, maps, HMSO publications and, well…..  books!

                                                      your time   –    John Smiths had it all, including an Antiquarian and second-hand book department.

Text Box: Craigend House, Mugdock, Milngavie

(now a ruin).  He had been wounded in the War of the Austrian Succession, at the Battle of Laffeldt in 1747.  On his return home, he set up his first bookshop in the Trongate, which also provided snuff and coffee for his esteemed customers.

Text Box: Packing up the books
Text Box: Staff Badge

When the last of the John Smiths passed away in 1848, the business retained its name, despite the fact no one from that family has been involved since.  It moved premises several times before ending up in 1907 where I and many others remember it, at 57-61 St. Vincent Street. 

My grateful thanks to Brian D. Henderson, who graciously allowed me to use his photographs, taken while John Smith and Son was in the process of closing their St. Vincent Street Branch.

All the photographs are his, with the exception of  those of Craigend House and  the recent photo of 57 St. Vincent Street, which were supplied by G.F. Smith.

Text Box: Now a restaurant occupies the premises

John Smith & Son website:-   

John Smith and Son