Henry Stevens was born in Barnet, Vermont, on August 24, 1819, the son of Henry Stevens, Sr., and Candace Salter. He attended several academies and preparatory schools before matriculating at Middlebury College in 1838. In 1840, he left for Yale College; he received a bachelor's degree in 1843 and an honorary master's degree ( in absentia ) in 1846. Stevens worked for Peter Force for two years, identifying and copying historical books and manuscripts. He left for London, England, in 1845. In London, he established himself as a dealer of rare books and manuscripts, and his clients included prominent collectors such as James Lenox and John Carter Brown.
On February 25, 1854, Stevens married Mary Newton Kuczynski, a widow, and they had one son, Henry Newton Stevens (b. June 7, 1855). Henry Stevens died on February 28, 1886. In 1885, Henry Newton Stevens became a partner in his father's firm, then called Henry Stevens & Son, and in 1895 Robert E. Stiles joined the firm, which then became Henry Stevens, Son and Stiles.