Posted by Rachel Westall on 27 December 2022
Tell us a little bit about the company. Where are you based? When did the company start?
I'm based in London with my marketing colleague, Victoria Hansen, where we look after all territories outside North America and Canada. The founding of Schiffer Publishing was a gradual process started when the research for Chester County, Pennsylvania, Inventories 1684-1850, by Margaret Schiffer, was discovered in a box in a basement in 1973. The study had been made at the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, Pennsylvania, for the author's personal interest. She had also published Furniture and its Makers of Chester County, Pennsylvania with the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1966. But when the inventory research was discovered, it seemed to the author's son Peter, who was an antiques dealer with his father Herbert, and to Peter's wife Nancy, who was a historical museum curator, that the information the research contained would be of interest to their clients for historical interpretation of antique furniture and accessories used in Chester County. Schiffer Publishing was started in 1974 to mimeograph, ring bind, and distribute that book, and to bring out-of-print historical books about antiques back into circulation. About the same time, Herbert and Peter had written a book about Chinese export porcelain, which they handled in the antiques business, and had sent the manuscript to a small publisher. When that publisher went out of business before their book was completed, Schiffer Publishing took it on as another project.
After closing their antiques business in Exton, Pennsylvania, each day, Peter and Nancy would come home and work on preparing the books at their kitchen table. As their family grew, they began to write and produce a few books a year and sell them at the antique shows where they showed their inventory of antiques. The company gradually brought out books on clocks, county history, ceramics, ironwork, mirrors, and miniature furniture.
Printing of the early books was farmed out to private printers and, when the print runs were deemed sufficient, to Science Press in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. As the inventory of books grew and storage in the basement of the antiques shop was filled to capacity, after digging out the basement for more headroom, the barn on the farm where the Schiffers lived in West Chester was converted in 1980, to relocate both the antiques shop and offices and a storage facility for books.
Family members worked together in the antiques business while growing the publishing efforts. In 1984, Peter became the first employee of Schiffer Publishing and, in 1985, Nancy became the second. Publishing grew and more employees were hired for distinct responsibilities; typesetters, editors, and shipping room workers joined the team. In the same year, a separate warehouse building was constructed at the West Chester farm to store the growing books inventory.
By 1992, publishing was growing well, and a new facility was built in Atglen, Pennsylvania, where it resides today, with offices and a larger and more efficient warehouse. The focus of the team became books in niche areas of interest with high-quality information and excellent images. Art papers and special bindings were used more frequently to produce useful references for long-lasting use. The catalogues of Schiffer books grew in size and diversity of subjects. Military history became a separate catalogue with its own editors and audience. Arts and crafts how-to books became a distinct subject area. Lifestyle, New Age, architecture, interior design, regional, and supernatural subjects grew in numbers as editors concentrated on their specific areas of expertise. Books for children emerged and found a new audience. In 2009, Cornell Maritime Press/Tidewater Publishers, of Centreville, Maryland, was acquired, bringing to Schiffer Publishing more books in many of its previous interest areas as well as new subjects: for example, texts for the Maritime academies and industries, Chesapeake Bay regional titles for adults and children, and historical books about the mid-Atlantic states. The subjects continue to expand.
With growth came a transition of leadership to the next generation, as Pete Schiffer heads the company today. He has instituted creative marketing ideas that include a MAP program (Minimal Advertised Pricing) with the Schiffer LTD imprint. We look forward to our future evolution, with great authors, exciting subject areas, and books that make us proud. The Schiffer Publishing offices, and a complete library, are open to the public during normal business hours, with more than 7,000 titles available to browse and/or purchase.
What's your background and why was the company started?
I've been in publishing for over 25 years dealing with foreign rights, trade, export, special sales, packaging and representing authors. Schiffer is a family run company who is expanding in title range and subject as well as territories
How has the company evolved?
The growth has been organic in terms of subjects, scale and territories and we are focusing very much on a good foundation and growth in the UK.
What do you specialise in?
We specialise in Craft – practical and inspirational; Mind Body Spirit and Self-help; Architecture, Design, Lifestyle, pop culture, travel, Kids and Military.
Talk us through the current books you're particularly excited about. Do you have a favourite?
In craft, the titles are very eclectic going from leather, through to crochet, jewellery and quilting, all offering a mixture of inspiration and aspiration giving some background about a culture, community and sharing the techniques. It's a real eye opener to try a variety of activities.
Do your books suit all levels of crafters?
Yes – from beginners to advanced level.
Craft has boomed over the last few years! Have you noticed any new trends?
Indeed, people like understanding and embracing techniques from other cultures. We're also publishing and revisiting more and more traditional activities especially needlework with a modern twist.
How often do you launch new titles?
We launch new titles every month.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
The quality and finish of the book is second to none.
Do you visit any trade shows? Do you plan to visit any soon?
Yes, we recently visited the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham and we're looking at events for next year as we speak.
What are you looking forward to most over the next year?
To reach out to more customers on the ground and fulfil their needs in terms of requirements and subjects. We're always open to new ideas!
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