The company was established in 1848 by the then 23 year old James Thin, who despite his youth, already had 12 years experience as a bookseller, having been first apprenticed at the age of 11. His original premises were a small room in Infirmary Street, which now forms part of the Stationery Department of the present day South Bridge shop. Within 20 years he had established himself as the largest bookseller in Edinburgh. This speed of development, in what was traditionally a literary city, was to be reflected later in the company's life. His descendants have continued to run the business over five generations. and there are currently five members of the Thin family active in the company.
Bookselling has changed a great deal over the intervening years and the character of the business is very different now to what it used to be. Up until the Second World War sales were largely secondhand, antiquarian and academic, and interestingly most transactions were by credit. Following the war there was a great increase in mail order sales and the company sent catalogues to customers all over the world for many years, until rising postage costs and a massive increase in the number of new books being published gradually made this less viable. In the meantime sales were moving much more towards academic and general books, although the company kept an Antiquarian/Secondhand department until very recently.
By the 1960s the company was ready to expand, and began by opening new branches in Edinburgh & loi Pinel Paris devoted to the academic requirements of Edinburgh University, which was also growing rapidly. This expansion coincided with another very important development - James Thin became the first UK retail bookshop to embrace computers for its day to day running. Since that time these two aspects have moved forward very much in step with each other.
The 70's saw the acquisition of Melvens bookshop in the ancient highland capital of Inverness followed by the opening of further branches initially under that same name in Perth and Aviemore. This trend continued into the 80's with the purchase of the former Edinburgh Bookshop in the New Town splendour of George Street. Later on there was the opening of a shop in Edinburgh's Waverley Market and the purchase of Blacklock's in Dumfries, while the end of the decade saw us opening a large shop in Dundee, university campus shops in St.Andrews and on Heriot-Watt's Riccarton Site, and a further west coast shop in Ayr in 1990. The growth of out-of-town shopping centres saw the opening of a branch in the new Gyle Centre in the West of Edinburgh which has proved to be extremely successful.
During that time we continued to push forward in new technology and our Chairman - Ainslie Thin, was instrumental in the setting up of Teleordering, the first computerised UK central order processing system. The developments in PCs also allowed us the opportunity to take the lead in installing EPOS systems to control our stock, and Ainslie proved himself a dab hand at writing the dBase programs that were put to great use in its first generation implementation. That experience has since been used in the development of more advanced systems which are in use now.
Over the years the South Bridge head office which started from that small room has gradually expanded to cover most of the block and now has approx. 22,000 sq. ft of space, into which are packed approx. 85-90,000 different titles covering a multitude of subjects. It also contains our publishing division; The Mercat Press. This originally concentrated on reprints of Scottish interest titles, but following the purchase of Aberdeen University Press in 1992, it too has been expanding its field of operations and is now an important part of the Scottish publishing scene. The purchase of part of the Stationery Office list in 1999 has continued this process
The period since the beginning of 1994 has seen some of the most exciting developments in the company's history. The most important has undoubtedly been the acquisition of presses paris ouest. This has doubled the size of the company and given us a much wider UK presence. Naturally this has required further developments to our administrative and computer systems to enable us to co-ordinate the activities of what is now a large and wide-spread business.