Our shops are open and we are processing online, telephone and email orders as normal


Encyclopaedia Britannica; or, a Dictionary of Arts and Sciences compiled upon a new plan.

In which The different Sciences and Arts are digested into distinct Treatises or Systems; and The various Technical Terms, &c. are explained as they occur in the order of the Alphabet … By a Society of Gentlemen in Scotland.

Edinburgh: for A. Bell and C. Macfarquhar; and sold by Colin Macfarquhar, 1771 Stock Code: 132649
Reserve Ask us a question

"The most famous of all encyclopaedias in the English language" (PMM)

First edition of the "most famous of all the encyclopaedias in the English language" (PMM), which first appeared in 100 serialized parts in 1768-71. Contributors to this first edition included many of the leading lights of the Scottish Enlightenment movement such as David Hume, James Balfour, George Campbell, Lord Kames, and Sir James Steuart. The long article, nearly 50 pages in length, on bookkeeping, is by John Mair.

"The remarkable history of the Encyclopaedia Britannica had its beginnings in the collaboration of three Scots possibly the sum total of the 'Society of Gentlemen' who were inspired by the stormy triumph of the Encyclopédie of Diderot, and by their desire to improve on its shortcomings. Andrew Bell (1726-1809) was an engraver, Colin Macfarquhar (c.1745-1793) a printer, and William Smellie (1740-1795) a printer and a scholar. All three lived in Edinburgh. The new encyclopaedia was to be compiled on a completely new plan: the principal subjects - some forty-five, all distinguished by titles printed across the whole page - were to be supported by another thirty lengthy articles, the whole being contained within one alphabetical sequence interspersed with numerous brief entries, supported by references where appropriate to the principal subjects. Some of the articles, notably those on medical subjects, extended to well over one hundred pages each. Thus, the editor attempted to have the best of both worlds: easy reference to individual items, terms and minor topics, combined with major treatment of important sciences and arts" (Collison, p. 138). As Smellie notes in his preface: "Utility ought to be the principal intention of very publication".

Provenance: from the library of the Small Keir family of Kindrogan estate, Perthshire, with the ownership signatures of William Small (1737-1794; married Margaret Keir 1776) and the armorial bookplates of either their son Patrick Small Keir (1781-1860) or grandson Patrick Small Keir (1810-1889).

Confused? Read our glossary


3 volumes, quarto (253 x 202 mm). Contemporary speckled calf, expertly restored, red morocco spine labels to second compartments, third compartments darkened with gilt-tooled volume numbers and floriate motifs, raised bands edged with gilt double fillets, edges sprinkled red.


Complete with half-titles, 160 engraved plates, plus 3 folding chemistry tables and folding Grammatical table in vol. 2.


Engraved armorial bookplate of P. Small Keir Esq. of Kindrogan to each front pastedown; contemporary ownership signature of William Small to title page of vol. 1 and half-titles of vols. 2 and 3; later pencilled shelfmarks. Professionally restored along extremities, presenting handsomely; leaves cleaned, marginal wormholes repaired, endpapers browned from turn-ins, some light marginal foxing and dampstain, the occasional ink mark and paper repairs (vol. 2 gatherings 4L-4M, and corresponding plates). Overall a very good, well-preserved set.


Alston III, 560; ESTC T145357; Higgs 5344; O'Neill E-24 (lacking vol. 2); Printing and the Mind of Man 218. Robert Collison, Encyclopaedias: their History throughout the Ages, 1966.


With the exception of framed items*, Peter Harrington offers free delivery on all UK orders of rare books, maps and prints placed through this website. Delivery to USA and the rest of the world is similarly free for orders over £200.

View Full Delivery Details



Established in 1969, Peter Harrington is one of the leading rare book firms in the world. It is a proud member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association – along with ILAB, the PBFA and Lapada – and from shops in Mayfair and Chelsea, London, sells rare books, prints and ephemera to customers across the world.

Email: mail@peterharrington.co.uk

Tel: +44 (0)20 7591 0220

ABA Antiquarian Bookseller Association ILAB International League of Antiquarian Booksellers LAPADA The Association of Art and Anatique Dealers PBFA Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association

Our Guarantee Page

Ask us a question


Contact us with details of the book you are interested in or selling and we will contact you

Sell Old Books Help me find a book