The Higginbotham's is an Indian company of book sellers and publishers based in the city of Chennai. The main bookstore at Mount Road, Chennai has the reputation of being India's oldest bookshop in existence.
An English librarian named Abel Joshua Higginbotham established The Higginbotham's after allegedly arriving in India as a British stowaway. In the 1840s he found employment as a librarian with a bookstore named Weslyan Book Shop run by Protestant missionaries. However, the store suffered heavy losses and the missionaries who ran the business decided to sell their shop for a low price. Higginbotham purchased the business, set up his own store and called it "Higginbotham's" in the year 1844. The Higginbotham's is, therefore, India's oldest bookstore in existence. It soon gained a reputation for quality. John Murray, in his Guidebook to the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay in 1859, describes Higginbotham's as the "premier bookshop of Madras". In March 1859, in a letter to Lord Macaulay, Lord Trevelyan, the Governor of Madras wrote:
Among the many elusive and indescribable charms of life in Madras City, is the existence of my favourite book shop 'Higginbotham's' on Mount Road. In this bookshop I can see beautiful editions of the works of Socrates, Plato, Euripides, Aristophanes, Pindar, Horace, Petrarch, Tasso, Camoyens, Calderon and Racine. I can get the latest editions of Victor Hugo, the great French novelist. Amongst the German writers, I can have Schiller and Goethe. Altogether a delightful place for the casual browser and a serious book lover
The Higginbotham's started selling stationery and also publishing and printing their own books from the 1860s onwards. When the British Crown took over the governance of India from the British East India Company by the Queen's Proclamation of 1858, Higginbotham's printed copies of the Proclamation in English and Tamil and distributed them all over the Presidency. The Higginbotham's were appointed as the "official booksellers to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales" during the latter's visit to India in 1875. Its first publication ‘Sweet Dishes: A little Treatise on Confectionary' by Wyvern, came out in 1884. Higginbotham's became official book-supplier to government and to various institutions, with different customers from British Prime Minister Clement Attlee (in office 1945-1951) to the last Maharaja of Mysore, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar. Abel Joshua Higginbotham served as the Sheriff of Madras in 1888 and 1889. From 1890 to 1920, the Higginbotham's were the sole suppliers to the Connemara Public Library. James Higgs, who was the Managing Director from 1890 onwards, was a prominent Freemason who had previously served as the Grand Deacon of England and the Deputy District Grand Master of Master.
Abel also involved his son C. H. Higginbotham in his business. On Abel's death in 1891, the firm passed on to the hands of his son C. H. Higginbotham. C. H. expanded the business beyond Madras. Higginbotham bookstalls were established in many railway stations. In 1904, the Higginbotham's moved to a new building, specifically built for the firm. In 1929, the Higginbotham's had as many as 400 employees.
In 1921 John Oakshott Robinson purchased Higginbotham's and added the store to his group, the Associated Publishers. Associated Publishers was bought by S. Anantharamakrishnan of Amalgamations Group in 1945 and has since remained a part of the conglomerate. Some of Higginbotham's famous customers included Clement Attlee, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and S. Radhakrishnan. Rev. Miller, a pioneer of the Madras Christian College, was another regular at Higginbotham's.
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