Thomas Napier Hibben Starts One of Victoria’s Longest-Running Bookstores

When Thomas Napier Hibben opened his bookstore in Victoria in October 1858 (buying out William Kierski’s establishment on Yates Street), he likely could not have imagined that he was starting one of the longest-running bookstores in Victoria’s history.

Thomas Napier Hibben was a partner in the Noisy Carriers’ Book & Stationery Company of San Francisco prior to becoming the dominant bookseller in Victoria. (Horace Bushnell, California: Its Characteristics and Prospects, 1858)

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1827, Hibben had already amassed several years’ experience as a bookseller in San Francisco by the time he set up shop in Victoria. Hibben had been among the other “forty-niners” drawn by the California gold rush in 1849, but after trying his hand as a prospector, he had turned to the book trade (a story similar to that of early New Westminster and Vancouver bookseller Seth Tilley) (1).

Unlike his predecessor, William Kierski, or his remaining competitor in the Victoria book trade in 1858, W. F. Herre, Hibben actively marketed his new business, placing ads in almost every edition of the Victoria Gazette and later the Daily Colonist. (Perhaps his stint at San Francisco’s so-called Noisy Carrier had taught him a thing or two about promotions!)

A typical ad for T.N. Hibben in late 1858 and early 1859. (Victoria Gazette, December 25, 1858)

At first, Hibben called his store the Express Bookstore, a reference, perhaps, to his location next door to the express company Freeman & Co. But in 1859, the business’s name appears as Hibben & Carswell in recognition of partner James Carswell.

On July 20 of that year, Hibben & Carswell announced their presence in a new brick store they called Stationer’s Hall. Their ad is also an impressive call to buy books. Of all the ads I have seen in my research of BC bookstores thus far, this has to be my favourite.

Hibben & Carswell’s ad in the July 20, 1859, issue of the Daily Colonist.


(1) British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present: Biographical, vol. III (Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914), 694.

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