On this day - December 6th

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Encyclopaedia Britannica launched

The brainchild of engraver Andrew Bell and printer and bookseller Colin MacFarquhar, both from Edinburgh, the Encyclopaedia Britannica was by no means the first in its field, encyclopaedias having a history dating back to the Greek scholars and carried on through medieval Europe. Two recent forerunners influenced Britannica more than the rest, however: Diderot's revolutionary Encyclop├ędie, whose radical views the Britannica was intended to counteract; and the 1728 Cyclopaedia produced by Ephraim Chambers, whose compartmentalised layout showed the way for the Britannica to develop.

The business partners took on William Smellie to edit and largely write the work, though in a very real version of cut-and-paste he stole many pieces wholesale from other works. But he got it done; and the publication proved a winner — if not always a financial success — thanks to the scheme of long and literate essays combining knowledge in related fields, these essays listed alphabetically, 'the new plan' as the business called it.

Rather than waiting for the entire work to be completed, the partners released it in small pamphlet-sized 'numbers', in modern parlance a part-work, the first of which went on sale in the Scottish capital for 6d (tuppence more for a slightly posher version) on December 6 1768, the product of and seminal in the Scottish Enlightenment.

When did the Encyclopaedia Britannica cease publication?

Click here for the answer

The last printing was in 2011

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