A Passage Through Time - A Brief History of MPH
That a brief history of MPH should start
with a missionary may seem strange, but it sets the motion to the train of events,
that, eventually led to the establishment of MPH.
In 1807, Robert Morrison was the first
Protestant missionary sent by the London Missionary Society to work in China. He
translated the New Testament and Old Testament into Chinese with the help of an
eager young missionary, William Milne. After being in Macau for two years, Milne
chose to set up a printing press in Malacca in 1815. Among his achievements in his
first few years there were to start up the Malacca Anglo-Chinese College and print
the first Chinese edition of the Old Testament.
The Origins of MPH
In 1890, Captain W.G. Shellabear arrived in Singapore to establish
a printing press known as the Amelia Bishop Press. The aim of the publishing venture
was the printing of Christian literature, and eventually, the setting and printing
of secular work was taken up.
Amelia Bishop Press moved to Raffles Place
in 1893 and changed its name to the American Mission Press. The Book Room was established
to sell publications of the Mission Press, school books and other supplies for the
Shellabear is recognised as the founder
of the Malaya Publishing House whose far sightedness in bringing modern printing
techniques to Singapore contributed to the growth of the Southeast Asian publishing
industry. Methodist Christians know him as one of the founders and early leaders
of Methodism in Malaya, and as a translator of the Bible and many other religious
texts into Malay. Among old Malay classics reprinted by Shellabear include Sejarah
Melayu and Hikayat Abdullah.
In 1900, Rev. William T. Cherry arrived
and helped turn the foundations built by Shellabear into a multi-faceted organisation
- printing, publishing, bookselling, and book distribution. The American Mission
Press changed name to the Methodist Publishing House in 1906, from which the acronym
MPH was derived. It was in 1908 that the Methodist Publishing House moved into its
new building at the corner of Stamford Road and Armenian Street. The company became
a public stock company in 1927 with an experienced Board of Directors and the Publishing
House was officially incorporated as Malaya Publishing House Limited.
In 1928, Frank Cooper Sands became the
Managing Director of the new Malaya Publishing House. The company was carrying on
its business as ‘proprietors and publishers of and dealers in newspapers,
journals, magazines, books and other literary works and undertakings.’ Frank
Sands reopened the publishing house in 1945 after the Japanese occupation, which
left most of the printing equipment removed or destroyed, and the building on Stamford
Road badly deteriorated.
In 1963 the Malaya Publishing House changed
its name to Malaysia Publishing House and began operating as a wholesale book department.
The retail side, under the name of Malaysian Books Limited, had new bookstores opening
at Selangor Mansion in Kuala Lumpur, Beach Street in Penang and at Jalan Laksamana
in Malacca. At Stamford Road, the ground floor was turned to general bookselling.
1966 saw the Malaysia Publishing House
failing financially. The company was bought over and set up under a consortium headed
by Masagung, a sixth-generation Chinese Indonesian. Under the new management, there
were 4 subsidiaries: MPH Books, MPH Printers, MPH Publications & Lian Tak MPH
(producing exercise books & paper products). Despite its problems in the 1960s,
the company continued to publish a range of old and new titles.
In 1972, Jack Chia Holdings (Hong Kong)
bought over MPH. As Jack Chia-MPH Limited, its various subsidiaries were divided
into the Books and Publications Division, the Consumer Products Division, the Timber
Division, the Hotel Division and the Services Division. The Books and Publications
Division took on new activities like publication of magazines.
The company was publicly listed and bought
over in 1999 by Singaporean entrepreneur Simon Cheong and changed its name to MPH
Ltd in March 2000.
In 2002, the MPH brand with its book retail
and book distribution arm, MPH Bookstores and MPH Distributors respectively, was
bought over by a Malaysian company, Jalinan Inspirasi Sdn Bhd. It is part of a large
Malaysian conglomerate owned by Malaysian businessman Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary.
For the first time, MPH becomes a wholly Malaysian-owned company.
Recently, the MPH Group restarted its
printing and publishing arm; MPH Group Printing and MPH Group Publishing respectively.
Jalinan Inspirasi is now known as the MPH Group, which owns MPH Bookstores (Malaysia
and Singapore), MPH Distributors (Malaysia and Singapore), MPH Group Printing and
MPH Group Publishing.