Archibald Constable

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bas-relief bronze of Archibald Constable
Lithograph of Archibald Constable published in A History of Booksellers, the Old and the New.
Constable's grave in the Old Calton Burying Ground in Edinburgh

Archibald Constable (24 February 1774 – 21 July 1827) was a Scottish publisher, bookseller and stationer.


He was born at Carnbee, Fife, son of the land steward to the Earl of Kellie.

In 1788 Archibald was apprenticed to Peter Hill, an Edinburgh bookseller, but in 1795 he started in business for himself as a dealer in rare books. He bought the Scots Magazine in 1801, and John Leyden, the orientalist, became its editor. In 1800 Constable began the Farmer's Magazine, and in November 1802 he issued the first number of the Edinburgh Review, under the nominal editorship of Sydney Smith; Lord Jeffrey, was, however, the guiding spirit of the review, having as his associates Lord Brougham, Sir Walter Scott, Henry Hallam, John Playfair and afterwards Lord Macaulay.

Constable made a new departure in publishing by the generosity of his terms to authors. Writers for the Edinburgh Review were paid at an unprecedented rate, and Constable offered Scott 1000 guineas in advance for Marmion. In 1804 A. G. Hunter joined Constable as partner, bringing considerable capital into the firm, styled from that time Archibald Constable & Co. In 1805, jointly with Longman & Co., Constable published Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel, and in 1807 Marmion.

In 1808 a split took place between Constable and Sir Walter Scott, who transferred his business to the publishing firm of John Ballantyne & Co., for which he supplied most of the capital. In 1813, however, a reconciliation took place. Ballantyne was in difficulties, and Constable again became Scott's publisher, a condition being that the firm of John Ballantyne & Co. should be wound up at an early date, though Scott retained his interest in the printing business of James Ballantyne & Co.

In 1812 Constable, who had admitted Robert Cathcart and Robert Cadell as partners on Hunter's retirement, purchased the copyright of the Encyclopædia Britannica, adding the supplement (6 vols, 1816-1824) to the 4th, 5th and 6th editions. In 1814 he bought the copyright of Waverley. This was issued anonymously; but in a short time 12,200 copies were disposed of, Scott's other novels following in quick succession. The firm also published the Annual Register. Through over-speculation, complications arose, and in 1826 a crash came. Constable's London agents stopped payment, and he failed for over £250,000, while James Ballantyne & Co. also went bankrupt for nearly £90,000. Sir Walter Scott was affected by the failure of both firms.

Constable started business afresh, and began in 1827 Constable's Miscellany of Original and Selected Works consisting of a series of original works, and of standard books republished in a cheap form, thus making one of the earliest and most famous attempts to popularize high-quality literature.

The Constable publishing business continued in the twentieth century, issuing a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books. It continues today as Constable & Robinson.


Constable was married to Mary Willison. They lived in Craigcrook House in western Edinburgh.[1]

His son Thomas Constable FRSE (1812-1881) took over his printing business on his death.

He in turn was followed by his own son, Archibald David Constable FRSE (d.1915)

See also[edit]


Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

Further reading[edit]

Published by Constable & Co.