The iconic Encyclopædia Britannica was the brainchild of the printer and bookseller Colin Macfarquhar and the engraver Andrew Bell. In 1778, the Scottish printer and his partner formed the “Society of Gentlemen” and hired the erudite William Smellie to come up with an encyclopedia that could be alphabetically aligned. The Encyclopædia Britannica made its debut in Edinburgh in Scotland. Volume I of the first edition was released on December 6, 1768. The initial volume was sold for a price of 6 to 8 pence depending on the quality of paper. By 1771, three-volume set was completed.
In all some 3,000 copies of the first set were sold. The 2,391-page complete first edition was sold for a cost of about 12 pounds sterling. The original editions also included elaborate illustrations, a number of which were by Andrew Bell himself. Macfarquhar was inspired by the success of the 35 volume French Encyclopédie which consisted of 71,818 articles, and 3,129 illustrations. The French Encyclopédie later grew to contain 166 volumes written by 2,250 contributors including illustrious names such as Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Voltaire.
Smellie and his colleagues focused on the utility of their encyclopedia, which grouped topics together in an alphabetical order. …(Read more)