Original OCR: no clean-up

155,388 ALTO XML files at page level

155,388 image files

METS metadata files at item level

19,257,785 lines and 166,729,009 words

Covers years 1768-1860


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.”


Rights information

Encyclopaedia Britannica: up to 1853

Public domain

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

No Known Copyright

Items in this collection between 1854 and 1860 are likely to be free of known copyright restrictions. For details visit our copyright page.


Download the data

Trial the data

Download a sample of the dataset for initial evaluation.

File contents: 1 plain text readme file; 832 ALTO XML files; 1 METS file; 832 image files.

File size: 132 MB compressed (220 MB uncompressed)

All the data

File contents: 1 plain text readme file; 1 CSV inventory file; 155,388 ALTO XML files; 195 METS files; 155,388 image files.

File size: 23.5 GB compressed (44.0 GB uncompressed)

Caution: large dataset

Just the text

File contents: 1 plain text readme file; 1 CSV inventory file; 195 plain text files.

File size: 336 MB compressed (946.88 MB uncompressed)