Allen & Unwin, formerly a major British publishing house, is now an independent book publisher and distributor based in Australia. The Australian directors have been the sole owners of the Allen & Unwin name since effecting a management buy out at the time the UK parent company, Unwin Hyman, was sold to HarperCollins in 1990.
The initial firm of George Allen and Sons was established in 1871, becoming George Allen and Unwin in 1914 as a result of Sir Stanley Unwin's purchase of a controlling interest. Unwin's son Rayner S. Unwin and nephew Philip helped run the company. Its London offices were long at 40 Museum Street. The company published the works of Thor Heyerdal and became well known for publishing the popular children's fantasy novel The Hobbit written by philologist and Oxford University professor J. R. R. Tolkien in 1937 and for later publishing the original edition of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy of high fantasy in 1954-1955.
Rayner Unwin had just retired at the end of 1985, Merlin and Corydon Unwin having taken over, when the firm was amalgamated in 1986 with Bell & Hyman to form Unwin Hyman Limited. Robin Hyman, who had first bought the older firm of Arthur Bell, became chairman and chief executive of both Allen & Unwin and Bell & Hyman, and chief executive of the combined Unwin Hyman. From this time onwards Allen & Unwin was an Australia-based, child company of Unwin Hyman. Rayner Unwin returned for a while as part-time chairman of Unwin Hyman, retiring again at the end of 1988. It was over the objections of largest shareholder Unwin that Hyman sold the firm to HarperCollins, the book-publishing arm of Rupert Murdoch's media empire.