Encyclopaedia Britannica


Encyclopaedia Britannica was founded in 1768 and the first edition was published as three volumes. The last printed edition was published in 2010, and it had grown to 32 volumes, 32 640 pages, with almost 4500 contributors (including Nobel prize winners and American presidents) and about 100 editors. When I was quite young my family procured a set of encyclopedias, bought second-hand from I don’t know where, an already well-used 14th edition 24-volume set published in 1962. I used it often and with great enjoyment (they were books after all!) but once I finished school those stuffy pages held little interest for me. Until recently, that is, when my family wanted to get rid of it, and I thought it would make excellent fodder for book art re-purposing. To my surprise I am finding that it holds almost more interest now than it did then. The publisher was William Benton—a Minnesota-born (on 1 April 1900, how wonderful!), Yale-educated, Connecticut senator—and Harry S Ashmore, the editor-in-chief, was a Pulitzer prize winner. The departmental editors and advisors is a staggeringly impressive list of highly educated people, and as I flick through the pages of Volume 1 (A to Annoy) I find information about Absolute Pitch, Aero Engines, Alaska, Amarillo, Andromeda and Anhydride—with a sense of discovery and surprise that doesn’t come from looking stuff up on Wikipedia. No doubt these volumes will end up reconfigured, cut up, folded, papier mached, rebound and restructured, but perhaps I will enjoy them for a while longer as the books they are. And perhaps I will keep this dedication page.

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