The company was founded by Thomas de la Rue (1793–1866), who moved from Guernsey to London in 1821 and set up in business as a 'Leghorn' straw hat maker, then as a stationer and printer.

In 1831 he secured his business a Royal Warrant to produce playing cards.

In 1855 it started printing postage stamps and in 1860 banknotes.

In 1896, the family partnership was converted into a private company.