Launch of virtual museum celebrating 500 years of the printing and publishing trade in the capital

Researchers at Edinburgh Napier University have helped build an archive charting the rise and fall of an industry that supported more than 7,000 jobs in the city at its peak.

Thousands of documents, photographs, books, artworks, company records, and even old machinery have been brought together for the ‘City of Print’ collection.

Archive film and newly recorded material from former print-workers is all available through the website –

The archive charts the entire history of the trade, from its origins in 1507 when King James IV awarded Scotland’s first printing patent to Walter Chepman and Androw Myllar for a press in the Cowgate, to the present-day success of publishers such as Mainstream and Canongate. It also reveals how Scotland’s capital led the way in the production of not just books but also newspapers, journals, diaries, calendars, greetings cards, wrapping paper and stationery.

Although the number of people employed by printing and publishing firms more than doubled from about 3,000 in 1861 to 7,000 in 1961, after that peak came swift decline, partly due to the advent of new technology and a slump in demand for traditional printing methods.

The City of Print online archive, which is being promoted at museums, libraries and arts centres in the capital, is the result of a major collaboration between the city council, Edinburgh Napier and Queen Margaret University.

The lead researcher on the project was Sarah Bromage, who is based at Edinburgh Napier’s Scottish Centre for the Book.

She said: “Printing and publishing was one of the major employers in Edinburgh for a long, long time, but there’s never been a proper archive of the industry until now.

“This project has brought together all the material that the council held as well as other records and equipment that we could find, or had donated, when we were working on the project.

“There isn’t any kind of printing or publishing museum in the city so the website is really the only place you can go to find out about this important industry.”