The brothers were the sons of a maltman. Andrew, intended for the church, received the better education, but it was Robert who initially started the press after the two brothers spent 1738 and 1739 in England and France. Eventually Andrew joined in the enterprise which continued for about 30 years.
Their publications were famous both for beauty and accuracy; the 554 works they printed included editions of Horace, Homer, Milton, and Thomas Gray. Although the prestige of their typography waned, it nonetheless represented high achievement in a style of the time. Their typefaces, the most enduring of which is Scotch Roman, were designed by Alexander Wilson.