with fine gilt tooling.
We have launched an appeal to digitise our collection of 'Encyclopaedia Britannica' and open it up for people around the globe to see online.
We will also feature the early editions in a forthcoming exhibition, and conserve them to enable future generations to consult.
Rare first edition
A work whose origins are in Edinburgh, 'Encyclopaedia Britannica' was one of the earliest efforts to compile and widely share authoritative information.
At the National Library we have in our collections the incredibly rare first edition from 1768, and hundreds of volumes of the subsequent early editions.
The first edition provides a fascinating insight into the perspectives of its editor and the principles of the time.
For example, the entry for 'Woman' is 'the female of a man', while 39 pages are devoted to a comprehensive discussion of horse diseases.
'Madness' was described simply as 'a most dreadful state of delirium, without fever' — while three pages of copperplate engravings showed childbirth in clinical detail.
The editor, the engraver and the publisher
the first edition.
'Britannica' was brought to life by a visionary 'Society of Gentlemen in Scotland' comprising publisher Colin Macfarquhar, engraver Andrew Bell and editor William Smellie.
He was paid £200 for his work, collating information from 150 sources from essays by David Hume and John Locke to newspaper and magazine articles.
Bell produced the accompanying 160 copperplate engravings, illustrating everything from mountain goats to logarithmic curves.
The printing took place in Macfarquhar's workshop in the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh.
How you can help
We need your support to make this project to celebrate 250 years of 'Encyclopaedia Britannica' a reality.
As a key work of the Scottish Enlightenment which shaped the way we think, the 'Britannica' deserves to be celebrated and shared with as wide an audience as possible.
With your help we will conserve, digitise and publish online the rare early editions of the 'Britannica'. We would also like to make them the subject of special workshops and learning events.
If you are able to support our appeal, please visit our appeal donation page.