Collins was born at Pollokshaws near Glasgow on 12 October 1789. He was a millworker from around 1800 who established a company in 1819 for printing and publishing pamphlets, sermons, hymn books and prayer books as well as a wide range of office products. He produced the first Collins English Dictionary in 1824, when he also obtained a licence to publish the Bible. In 1856, the first Collins atlas was published. He died on 2 January 1853 at Rothesay, Buteshire.