Regular visitors may remember that earlier this week I released a podcast about the release of the the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the 6th December 1768. As with all episodes of HistoryPod, I researched this thoroughly and cross-referenced the date against as many sources as I could to ensure reliability.
In the evening of the 6th December I received a message from the editors of Britannica themselves. They thanked me for including the Encyclopaedia in an episode, but also included a correction – Britannica’s was first published not on the 6th December but the 10th. Based on my research, the date of the 6th appears to have come from an advert in an Edinburgh broadsheet newspaper on that day for the new Encyclopaedia. However, in the message from Britannica they revealed that they have only recently determined that the first edition was actually published on the 10th.
Consequently I’m releasing this brief correction to recognise the work of Britannica in confirming the real publishing date, and to ensure that HistoryPod remains an up-to-date and accurate record of significant events from our past. In case you missed it, here’s the story.
Officially titled Encyclopædia Britannica, or, A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, compiled upon a New Plan, the Britannica was published in three volumes over a three year period. A key part of the Scottish Enlightenment, the Britannica was founded by Edinburgh printers Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell although it was published under the pseudonym “A Society of Gentlemen in Scotland” to reflect the numerous people involved in its production.
Although considerably shorter than the 17-volume French Encyclopédie that inspired it, the Britannica was notable for its “new plan” that saw related topics on major themes grouped together into a single “treatise”. More than forty treatises on topics ranging from surgery to watch and clockwork were inserted in alphabetical order alongside shorter articles and technical definitions. This meant that the Britannica could be used for both quick reference and more comprehensive study.
Edited by 28-year old William Smellie, the first edition was released in weekly instalments known as “numbers” that were later bound into volumes. These included 160 copperplate engravings by Andrew Bell and stretched over 2,500 double-columned pages. An estimated 3,000 copies of the first edition were sold, with the completed set being reprinted twice before work on a second edition began in 1776.
Having gone through fifteen editions that grew to 32 volumes, the last printed version of the Britannica was released in 2010. It is now exclusively distributed through digital mediums including a subscription-based website.