To enter the world of Harlequin is to travel the globe. In just over 50 years this company evolved from a small Canadian reprint house into the largest publisher of romance fiction in the world. Now an international concern, Harlequin is known throughout North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, Japan and China for its unique brand of romance fiction, currently translated into 25 languages and sold in various formats in over 100 international markets.Harlequin Books was founded by Richard Bonnycastle in 1949. Specialising in reprints of British and American books, the first 400 titles under the Harlequin imprint were a varied collection of westerns, thrillers, craft books and classics. It was the inclusion of romance titles which formed the foundations of Harlequin's development into a leading publisher of romance fiction.
In 1957 Harlequin began buying the rights to romance novels from the English firm Mills & Boon Ltd. So successful were these Doctor Nurse romances that the Canadian Company began to concentrate on selling them and by 1964 romance fiction comprised the entire Harlequin list.
In the late 1960s Harlequin began a period of extraordinary expansion that propelled it into the international stage following the 1971 acquisition of Mills & Boon Ltd, then the largest romance publisher in the English speaking world. By the end of the decade, Harlequin's overseas acquisitions and partnerships were taking the company's brand of love stories to bookshelves around the world. In 1975 Harlequin Holland was opened, followed by a joint venture in Germany. Harlequin France, Sweden, Japan and Greece soon followed as well as another joint venture in Italy. In 1981, Canadian communications giant Torstar Corporation completed its purchase of the dynamic Harlequin operation. Expansion into the overseas market continued with the 1990s seeing the opening of offices in Eastern Europe. Harlequin Hungary was soon followed by Poland in 1991 and the Czech Republic in 1992. Books are now also sold under license in Russia, Latin America, Estonia, Lithuania and Taiwan.