The first eight editions of Encyclopaedia Britannica, issued from 1768-1860, comprise a total of 143 volumes. The Britannica was first issued in Edinburgh in 100 weekly parts (forming 3 volumes) from 1768 to 1771 and illustrated with 160 copperplate engravings. The enterprise was undertaken by the partnership of printer Colin Macfarquhar (1744-1793) and engraver Andrew Bell (1726-1809) who paid William Smellie (1740-1795) to compile the Britannica’s first edition for a fee of £200.
Subsequent editions of the Britannica expanded the content: the second edition was published in 10 volumes (1777-1784); the third in 18 volumes (1788-1797). As the Britannica expanded it sought contributions from leading experts in their fields who were either approached by the editors or drawn by the encyclopaedia’s growing reputation. Macfarquhar and Bell retained the copyright for the first three editions before publication was taken over by Archibald Constable and then A & C Black. Managed and published in Edinburgh up to the 9th edition.
The Britannica set the standard for modern encyclopedias and is sometimes seen as an enduring product of the Scottish Enlightenment. These volumes were a compendium of current and practical knowledge made relatively affordable by the initial efforts of Macfarquhar and Bell and by Smellie’s views on the democratisation of knowledge and the axiom, with which he opens the Preface to the first edition, that “utility ought to be the principal intention of every publication.”
Encyclopaedia Britannica: up to 1853
Items in this collection up to 1853 are free of known copyright restrictions. For details visit the Library’s copyright page.
Encyclopaedia Britannica: 1854-1860
Items in this collection between 1854 and 1860 are likely to be free of known copyright restrictions. For details visit our copyright page.
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File contents: 1 plain text readme file; 832 ALTO XML files; 1 METS file; 832 image files.
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