Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Letts, Son and Co

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1796 John Letts, bookbinder and printer, established a stationery business in the arcades of London's Royal Exchange.

1803 John's son, Thomas (1803 – 1873), was born at Stockwell, London

1812 The merchants and traders who frequently purchased stationery items from his shop needed a means of recording the movements of stock and controlling their finances. John Letts responded to the needs of his merchant customers by creating the world's first Commercial Diary.

1816 John published "Letts's diary or bills owed book and almanack" as the first commercially-produced diary, which Thomas later developed into dozens of differently-printed and bound, annual publications.

Rapid refinement of the product, with the introduction of detailed information sections, meant that by the 1820s the first modern style diary ranges were being published.

1835 Thomas took over the family-owned company on his father's retirement, printing a range of diaries that stretched from small pocket diaries to commercial foolscap folio one-day-per-page editions. Additionally, his factories at North Road, New Cross printed interest tables, specialist clerical and medical diaries, calendars, parliamentary registers, ledgers, and logbooks.

Letts' publications became ubiquitous, being used by many of the well-known Victorian writers and diarists who were well-acquainted with the product range. For example, writing in the Cornhill Magazine, William Makepeace Thackeray noted he preferred a Letts No. 12 diary.

Thomas was joined in the family business by his son, Charles John Letts (b.1839).

By 1861 Letts, Son and Co well known for publishing diaries[1]

1870 The company needed to raise working capital to fund the expansion of the diary business and converted to a limited liability company, Letts, Son and Co.

However the profitability declined and the shareholders became dissatisfied

1881 Charles resigned to set up Charles Letts and Co.

1885 Letts, Son and Co. went into liquidation; the copyrights to the diaries were purchased by Cassell and Co who set up a new company, Letts' Diaries Co, with Hazell, Watson and Viney[2]

1886 Cassell and Co issued a series of diaries bearing the name Letts[3]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Nov 19, 1861
  2. The Engineer 1886
  3. The Times, Dec 21, 1886
  • Biography of Thomas Letts, ODNB