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Rees's Cyclopædia

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Title: Rees's Cyclopædia  
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Subject: Abraham Rees, JSTOR/Experiences, Rees (disambiguation), Ely Hargrove, Low's Encyclopaedia
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Rees's Cyclopædia

Title page of first edition, 1819
Editor Abraham Rees
Country Great Britain
Genre Encyclopedia
Publisher Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown
Publication date
1802-1819 (1802-1819)

Rees's Cyclopædia, in full The Cyclopædia; or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature was an important 19th-century British encyclopædia edited by Rev. Abraham Rees (1743–1825), a Presbyterian minister and scholar who had edited previous editions of Chambers's Cyclopædia.



Abraham Rees (1743–1825), compiler of Rees's Cyclopædia.

When Rees was planning his Cyclopædia, Europe was in the aftermath of the French Revolution, and during serialised publication (1802-1820) the Napoleonic Wars and War of 1812 occurred. Britain absorbed into its empire a number of the French Colonies in India and the West Indies; Romanticism came to the fore; evangelical Christianity flourished with the efforts of William Wilberforce; and factory manufacture burgeoned.

With this background, philosophical radicalism was suspect in Britain, and aspects of the Cyclopædia were thought to be distinctly subversive and attracted the hostility of the Loyalist press.[1] Contributors Jeremiah Joyce and Charles Sylvester had attracted the attention of the government and were tried for their views. The editor and authors went to great pains to emphasise their Englishness, to the extent of anglicising many French words: the French Kings Louis appear under the heading "Lewis".

Scientific theorising about the atomic system, geological succession, and earth origins; natural history (botany, entomology, ornithology and zoology); and developments in technology, particularly in textiles manufacture, are all reflected in the Cyclopædia.[2] Other topics include exploration and foreign travel which provide insights into how the world was viewed at that time. Agriculture and rural life also feature greatly.


The Cyclopædia appeared serially between January 1802 and August 1820, and ran to 39 volumes of text and 6 volumes of plates including an atlas. It contains around 39 million words, and around 500 of the articles are of monograph length. The sheets were produced weekly, and issued as half-volume sets several times a year. The dates of these can be seen in the table 4.1 below. Only one set of the work in half-volumes (which also has some of the paper wrappers) is known to survive, in the library of the Natural History Museum, London.


A plate from the atlas.

The plates were published in 6 volumes: four covering general articles, one on natural history, and one atlas. They were issued as blocks and so do not appear to have been issued with the texts in the half-volumes.[3] There are 1107 Plates, and Atlas with 61 folded maps 16" by 10" in size. Bound at the back of Volume 39 are lists of all the plates and an index to them.

Later editions

The American edition was published by Samuel F. Bradford (see Samuel F. Bradford), of Philadelphia. Bradford was a member of the famous dynasty of American printers. The first volume appeared in May 1806 and the last in December 1820. The work extended to 41 volumes of text and 6 of plates. See section 5 below.

The growth of industrial archaeology led to the reprinting in the 1970s by the British publisher David and Charles of volumes covering manufacturing industry, naval architecture, and horology.

In the 1980s the Swiss publishing house IDC produced a microfiche edition.[4]

Digitised editions of the Cyclopædia have begun to appear on the Internet since about 2010, making access to the articles much simpler.

Background, reception, scholarship

The first decades of the 19th century saw an efflorescence in encyclopædia publishing in Britain. Examples were:

These sources commonly fed off each other, and writers often contributed to more than one.

The Cyclopædia had comparatively little reception on publication. The Anti-Jacobin Review published hostile reviews of half-volume 1 in 1802, and of volumes 2-4 in 1804-5. These reviews complained about its supposed antireligious aspects and radical standpoints attributed to its editor and contributors, and cited lack of article balance, confusing alphabetisation, and cross-references to then-unpublished volumes. The British Critic less stridently criticised lack of balance and confusion in volume 1. The Panoplist carried a serial review of both editions of Rees by Jedediah Morse in 1807-1810.

Macmillan's Magazine, 1862,[5] mentioned Rees and Chambers in one sentence. The Quarterly Review[6] commented, "Rees is the most extensive cyclopædia in English with many excellent articles it has generally been condemned as on the whole too diffuse and too commonplace."

The exhaustive article on encyclopædias in the Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition (1910)[7] mentions Rees's involvement with the editing of the original Chambers, but ignores completely the later work. The 15th edition of Britannica mentions Rees's Cyclopædia superficially.

Rees's Cyclopædia seems to be in limbo in modern published studies of reference books. Superseded by more modern works and ignored by larger scholarship, the Cyclopædia received modern scholarly attention from students of the history of science and the history of technology, after research into the life and times of Charles Burney and his writings on music. In 1948 Percy Scholes published his biography The Great Dr Burney, 2 vol., and devoted a chapter to Burney's work for Rees. Scholes had his own copy of the work and used it profitably to discuss in some detail the faults of the work, in particular, the way the serial production caused major problems when editors were faced with new knowledge that appeared after the volume containing the appropriate section had been issued. They addressed this partially with an appendix in the last volume, and also by inventing contorted new subject titles in the main work ("Cotton Manufacture", Vol. 10, 1808, and "Manufacture of Cotton", Vol. 21, 1812). Later writers about Burney have investigated further his involvement with Rees. (See list of sources, below).

The Cyclopædia lacks a classified index volume, and alphabetising is on occasion eccentric ("York, New"). Citing the work is difficult, since there are no page numbers.

The Rees Project

The Rees Project was instigated by June Zimmerman Fullmer (1920—2000), a professor at Ohio State University, an authority on Humphry Davy and the chemistry of the early 19th century. Her work drew her to Rees and she indexed it. After tapping the invisible college[8][9] of scholars who knew of Rees, she convened a summer 1986 meeting in London, following which she wrote a proposal[10] to the American Foundation for the Humanities for funding to the project, setting out the object of producing a printed concordance to the contents of the Cyclopædia. This was intended to make Rees much more widely accessible to the modern reader. Funding was not forthcoming, and the matter lapsed.


Rees's Cyclopædia was printed by Andrew Strahan, the King's Printer. It was entirely hand-set (there being no mechanical means of composition at this date) and printed. At the commencement of the work Strahan had nine wooden presses and over 20,000 kg of type. By 1809 this had risen to fifteen wooden presses and 36,000 kg of type.[11] Since the Cyclopædia was produced serially, with a few sheets being printed each week, only a small part of Strahan's men and equipment would have ever been used on it at any one time. The work was printed on demy paper and folded to quarto format, with an uncropped size of 11 ¼ inches by 8 ¾ inches. A limited number were advertised in the prospectus as being produced on royal paper, which when folded gave a format of 12 ¼ inches by 10 inches. The paper is wove, with no chain lines. One watermark in the paper has been noted,[12] with the legend W BALSTON, 1811. The supplier has not been identified, but it may be significant that a J. Dickinson was a member of the publishing syndicate.

The text matter was set in two columns measuring 221mm x 80mm, with 67 lines per column. Ten lines of text measures 33mm deep. According to McKerrow's formula[13] this size of typeface was Long Primer. The typefounder is unknown, but the article on "Printing" in Volume 28 had, bound with the text, specimens of type cast by Fry and Steele of London and Alexander Wilson of Glasgow. Greek and Hebrew faces were sometimes used and occasionally special chemical, pharmaceutical, and other symbols appear.

The work followed the common practice of the time of conflating the entries for I and J and U and V into single lists.

At first a half-volume cost 18 shillings, and a large paper version with proof copies of the plates cost £1 16 shillings (according to the prospectuses). By 1820 the parts sold for £1 and £1 16 respectively. It is not clear if these prices were for the parts in wrappers. At the end of the project the work sold for £85 in the quarto edition and was reputed to have cost Longmans nearly £300,000. Most sets of Rees today are bound in calf, with two parts to the volume, but the quality of the leather used has meant that in many cases the hinges have rotted and the covers loosened, necessitating rebinding.

The publication of Rees followed the common system of a number of booksellers banding together to share the cost and eventual profit: the conger (syndicate). The syndicate comprised Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown, Paternoster-Row; F. C. and J. Rivington, publisher to the SPCK (publishers of the British Critic); A. Strahan, King's Printer; and 24 smaller concerns. The full list is on the work's title page.

No records of the publication survive, since the papers of Longmans were destroyed when their premises in Paternoster Row, London, were burnt out in the Blitz on the night of 29–30 December 1940.[14]

Publication dates

Rees is often incorrectly cited as published 1819. Correct dating by half-volume or fascicle (1802-1820) has serious implications for the accuracy of citations by modern writers, especially when discussing scientific priority: a list compiled in 1820 in Philosophical Magazine was designed to give proper priority to scientific discoveries. Volumes of plates were issued in blocks, and not with the texts to which they refer.

Botanical historian Benjamin Daydon Jackson, unaware of this list, attempted to compile a list based on contemporaneous advertisements in the trade press, on dates appearing on the plates (having assumed that the plates were issued at the same time as the accompanying texts), and some guesswork. He published his first list privately in 1877, he issued a corrected version in 1880, and a final version appeared in the Journal of Botany in 1896. Only 3 of Jackson's dates accord with the 1820 dates listed below.[3]

1 1 1 January 1802 AGOGE
2 3 18 October 1802 Pt. ANTIMONY
4 7 April 1803 ARTERIOTOMY
3 5 22 September 1803 Pt. BABEL-MANDEB
6 17 March 1804 BATTERSEA
4 7 17 August 1804 BIÖRNSTAHL
8 13 April 1805 BOOK-BINDING
5 9 1 June 1805 Pt. BRUNIA
10 26 December 1805 CALVART
6 11 18 February 1806 Pt. CAPE OF GOOD HOPE
12 17 June 1806 CASTRA
7 13 1 October 1806 Pt. CHALK
14 9 February 1807 CHRONOLOGY
8 15 18 May 1807 Pt. CLAVARIA
16 10 August 1807 COLLISEUM
9 17 27 November 1807 Pt. CONGREGATION
18 8 March 1808 CORNE
10 19 2 May 1808 Pt. CROISADE
20 2 July 1808 CZYRCASSY
11 21 23 September 1808 Pt. DELUGE
22 3 December 1808 DISSIMILITUDE
12 23 14 February 1809 Pt. DYNAMICS
24 22 May 1809 ELOANÆ
13 25 18 August 1809 Pt. EQUATION
26 25 November 1809 EXTREMUM
14 27 3 February 1810 FIBRO-CARTILAGE
28 13 April 1810 FOOD
15 29 27 June 1810 Pt. FROBERGER
30 8 October 1810 GENERATION
16 31 29 November 1810 GNEIME
32 25 January 1811 GRETNA GREEN
17 33 8 March 1811 HATFIELD REGIS
34 22 April 1811 HIBE
18 35 23 June 1811 HUYSUM
36 20 August 1811 INCREMENT
19 37 14 September 1811 Pt. JOSEPHUS
38 16 December 1811 KILMES
20 39 27 January 1812 Pt. LAUREMBERG
40 19 March 1812 LIGHT-HORSE
21 41 12 May 1812 Pt. LONGITUDE
42 27 July 1812 Pt. MACHINERY + A. of PLATES
22 43 27 August 1812 Pt. MANGANESE
44 4 November 1812 MATHESON
23 45 11 December 1812 METALS
46 9 February 1813 MONSOON
24 47 30 March 1813 Pt. MUSCLE
48 26 April 1813 NEWTON
25 49 15 July 1813 Pt. OLEINÆ
50 15 September 1813 OZUNCZE + B. of PLATES
26 51 27 November 1813 Pt. PASSIFLORA
52 18 January 1814 PERTURBATION
27 53 22 March 1814 Pt. PICUS
54 7 May 1814 POETICS
28 55 14 July 1814 Pt. PREACHING
56 16 September 1814 PUNJGOOR
29 57 14 December 1814 Pt. RAMISTS + C. of PLATES
58 26 January 1815 REPTON
30 59 21 March 1815 Pt. ROCK
60 1 June 1815 RZEMEIN
31 61 11 July 1815 Pt. SARABANDA
62 21 September 1815 SCOTIUM + D. of PLATES
32 63 22 December 1815 Pt. SHAMMY
64 28 February 1816 SINDY
33 65 17 May 1816 Pt. SOUND
66 27 July 1816 STARBOARD
34 67 26 October 1816 Pt. STUART (JAMES)
68 11 December 1816 SZYDLOW
35 69 19 March 1817 Pt. TESTUDO
70 1 May 1817 TOLERATION
36 71 13 August 1817 Pt. TUMOURS
72 24 October 1817 VERMELHO
37 73 20 December 1817 Pt. UNION
74 23 March 1818 WATERLOO
38 75 29 May 1818 Pt. WHITBY
76 30 July 1818 Pt. WREN
39 77 30 December 1818 ZYTOMIERS; & Pt. BALDWIN of Addendum + E. of PLATES
78 27 October 1819 ZOLLIKIFER of Addendum + F. of PLATES

Citation style

Hundreds of articles in Rees are very long, and the work is unpaginated, so page reference is not easy.[3] The following convention was adopted by the Rees Project, and is based on the method described by R. B. McKerrow.[15] Each gathering has 8 pages, and each page 2 columns. The reference is cited by volume or half-volume details with accurate date between 1802 and 1820, article title, and then the gathering's identifier, the page, and the column, separated by colons. The page containing the gathering identifier (e.g., "B") is page 1 in each gathering (e.g., page "B:1"). Page 3 in each gathering typically contains the gathering identifier plus the figure 2 and should be ignored (e.g., "B2" appears on page "B:3").

The account of the bell-crank steam engine may be referenced as "

. Published 1806-1820

 Abraham Rees, The Cyclopaedia; or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and Literature, Philadelphia: S.F. Bradford


The digitised version of the Atlas is linked from the HathiTrust because the Internet Archive lacks the volume.

+ via Hathi Trust

 Abraham Rees (1802–1819), The Cyclopaedia; or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and Literature, London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown


Digitised copies

  • Miller, L. "The New Cyclopædia". 
  • 93 digitised articles on all aspects of textiles from the British edition can be found on the On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving Related Topics at Arizona State University.

External links

  • Lonsdale, Roger, Dr Charles Burney: a Literary Biography, OUP 1965, pp 407–431, chapter X, "Burney and Rees's Cyclopædia"
  • Ferguson, Eugene S. (1968). "'Cast Iron Aqueduct in Rees's Cyclopædia'". Technology and Culture 9: 597–600.  
  • Cossons, Neil, ed., Rees's Naval Architecture 1819-20, 1 vol, Publisher: David and Charles, 1970
  • Cossons, Neil, ed., Rees's Clocks, Watches and Chronometers, 1 vol, Publisher: David and Charles, 1970
  • Cossons, Neil, ed., Rees's Manufacturing Industry, 5 vol, Publisher: David & Charles, 1972
  • Harte, N. B., 'Rees's Watches Chronometers and Naval Architecture : A Note', Maritime History III 1973, 92-5
  • Harte, N. B., "On Rees's Cyclopædia as a source for the history of the textile industries in the early nineteen century," Textile History, 5, 1974, pp 119–127.
  • Rowland, K. T., Eighteenth Century Inventions David & Charles, 1974 [Draws extensively from the Rees plates as illustrations]
  • Pestana, Harold R., 'Rees's Cyclopædia (1802–1820) a sourcebook for the history of geology, Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, (1979), 9, (3), 353-361.
  • Lonsdale, Roger, 'Dr Burney's 'Dictionary of Music' ',Musicology Australia, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 159–171, 1979 [An account of Burney's Rees articles, with criticism of Scholes's discussion of them.]
  • Kassler, Jamie Croy, The Science of Music in Britain: A Catalogue of writings, Lectures and Inventions, 2 vol, Garland, 1979 [Both Burney and Farey sr. appear often in the Index. Rees's Cyclopaedia and music is discussed at pp 1200–1204.]
  • Jeremy, David J., Transatlantic Industrial Revolution, Blackwells, 1981. [Makes use of the textile machinery illustrations and other information]
  • Stafleu, F. A., and Cowen, R. S., Taxonomic Literature 2ed (1983), vol 4, pp 631–635 [Detailed account of the bibliographic make-up of the volumes and plates. Includes the information that a William Fitt Drake contributed material about botany He does not appear in any of the sources that make up the list of contributors above.]
  • Mabberley, D. J., ' "Anemia", or, the Prevention of Later Homonyms' Taxon, vol 32, No 1 (Feb 1983) pp 79–87. [Has at pp 80–81 an account of Sir J. E. Smith and the Supplementary portion of Rees's Cyclopaedia. Concerns botanical articles.]
  • Grant, Kerry S., Dr Burney as Critic and Historian of Music. UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1983.[Throughout this book Grant made reference to, and some times quoted from, Burney's articles in Rees.]
  • F. A. S., [F. A. Stafleu], The Rees Cyclopaedia: The Cyclopaedia or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and Literature, London, Longman,Hurst, Rees, 1802-1820 by A. Rees, Taxon Vol 35, No 2 (May, 1986) pp 452–453. [A review of the IDG microfilm publication of Rees. Makes the point the work had not been adequately studied from the standpoint of the history of science.]
  • Klima, Slava, Bowers, Garry, and Grant, Kerry S., Memoirs of Dr Charles Burney, 1726-1769, University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln and London, 1988.[Throughout this book the authors made reference to, and frequently quoted from, Burney's articles in Rees.]
  • Kafker, Frank A., Notable Encyclopedists of the Eighteenth Century: Successors of the Encyclopedie, Publisher: The Voltaire Foundation, 1994. [Contains some material about the American edition]
  • Woolrich, A. P., "John Farey, Jr., technical author and draughtsman: his contribution to Rees's Cyclopædia". Industrial Archaeology Review, 20, (1998), 49-68 AIA Abstracts 1998
  • Coad, JonathanThe Portsmouth Block Mills: Bentham, Brunel and the start of the Royal Navy's Industrial Revolution, English Heritage, 2005 [Material from Rees's Cyclopaedia was used to inform Chapter 6 'The Beginnings of Mass Production'. See Portsmouth Block Mills ]
  • Jeremy, David J. and Darnell, Polly C., Visual Mechanic Knowledge: The workshop drawings of Isaac Ebeneezer Markham (1795-1825), New England Textile Mechanic, Pub. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Vol 263, 2010, pp 335–344 [An extensive account of the textiles material in the two versions of the Cyclopædia].
  • Anon., Rveiew in Gentleman's magazine, vol 84, pt 1, 1816, pp 539–40
  • Anonymous (1820). "Notices of New Books: The Cyclopædia ...".  
  • Anon, Notice of the completion of the publication of the work, Monthly Repository, 1820, vol 15, p 624
  • Jackson, Benjamin Daydon (1896). "Cyclopædia '". Journal of Botany 34: 307–311. 
  • Scholes, P. A., The Puritans and Early Music in England and New England, OUP, 1934 [Occasional references to Burney's articles in Rees]
  • Scholes, P. A., The Oxford Companion to Music, 1938 (and later eds) [Frequent citations to Burney's Rees articles, and also some illustrations from the work.]
  • Scholes, P. A., 'A New Enquiry into the Life and Work of Dr Burney', Proceedings of the Musical Association 67th Session, 1940-1941, pp 1–30. [pp 24–5 has section 'Burney an Encyclopaedist'.]
  • Scholes, P. A., The Great Dr Burney, 1948, Vol 2, pp 184–201, chapter LVIII, "Virtues and vagaries of a septuagenarian encyclopædist" [Throughout his biography Scholes made reference to, and some times quoted from, Burney's articles in Rees.]
  • Mackarness, E. D. 'Dr Burney, Biographer', The Contemporary Review, vol 189 (1956) pp 352-357. [A brief account of Burney's biographical writings, including those in Rees.]
  • Scholes, P. A., Dr Burney's Musical Tours in Europe, 2 vol, OUP 1959, [Scholes makes a number of references to, and quotations from Burney's Rees articles]
  • Oldman, C.B., 'Dr Burney and Mozart', Mozart Jahnbuch 1962/63. (1964), pp 73-81. [Includes extracts from Burney's Rees articles about Mozart.]
  • Anon., Review in Ackermann's Repository, vol 2, 1816, p 307
  • Anon, Dr Rees's New Cyclopædia - On Saturday, 2 January 1802, will be published..., 3 page printed prospectus, 1801
  • Anon, Dr Rees's New Cyclopædia - Samuel F. Bradford is preparing to publish by subscription .... 1 page broadside prospectus of the American edition, n. d. [c.1805]
  • Anon., Review of Vol 1 in the Annual Review and History of Literature, vol 1, 1802, pp 859–66
  • Anon., Review of Vol 1 in the Anti-Jacobin Review, vol 12, 1802, pp 178–90 and vol 13, 1802, pp 40–53
  • Anon., Review of Vols 2, 3 and 4 in the Anti-Jacobin Review, vol 19, 1804, pp 365–376 and vol 20, 1805, pp 44–55
  • Anon., Review of Vol 1 in the British Critic, vol 25/26, 1805, pp 225–244 and vol 27/28, 1806, pp 64–77
  • Morse, Jedediah, comparative reviews of both editions in The Panoplist, Vol 3, 1807, pp 129–134, 178-183, 270-274, 507-511, Vol 4 (N.S. vol 1) 1808-9, pp 131–138, 177-183, 214-217, 273-274, 318-324, 368-371, 407-413, 514-518, Vol 5, (N.S. Vol 2) 1809-10, pp 29–34, 81-85, 123-127.
  • Anon., Review in Eclectic Review, vol 5, 1809, pp 551–552
Chronological list of sources
  1. ^ Such as the Anti-Jacobin Review - see Section 2 below
  2. ^ "The subversive encyclopedia" by John Underwood in Science Museum Library & Archives Newsletter, Spring/Summer 2010.
  3. ^ a b c Anonymous (1820). "Notices of New Books: The Cyclopædia ...".  
  4. ^ "Catalogue" (PDF). IDC. Retrieved 31 March 2012. 
  5. ^ "Enyclopædia". Macmillan's Magazine 5: 357–370. 1862. 
  6. ^ "Encyclopædias". Quarterly Review 113: p367. 1863. 
  7. ^ Wikisource:1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Encyclopaedia
  8. ^ "The Newcomen Bulletin [of the Newcomen Society of London]" 136. December 1986. pp. 1–2. 
  9. ^ "Rees's Cyclopædia". Archives of Natural History 14: 112. 1987.  
  10. ^ Fullmer, June (1987). Proposal for the creation of "The Readers' Guide to Rees's Cyclopædia". Self-published in limited-circulation typescript. 
  11. ^ Gaskell, Phillip (1956). "The Strahan Papers". The Times Literary Supplement: 592. 
  12. ^ Vol 18, gathering Q leaf 2
  13. ^ McKerrow, Ronald B. (1928). An introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students. Clarendon Press, Oxford. pp. 306, note 1. 
  14. ^ Munby, Frank (1954). Publishing and Bookselling. London: Jonathan Cape. p. 329. 
  15. ^ McKerrow, Ronald B. (1928). An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students. Clarendon Press. pp. 161ff. 
  16. ^ Frank A. Kafker, Notable encyclopaedias of the late eighteenth century; eleven successors of the Encyclopédie, 1994 , p 202, n 6
  17. ^ Jeremy, David J. and Darnell, Polly C., Visual Mechanic Knowledge: The workshop drawings of Isaac Ebeneezer Markham (1795-1825), New England Textile Mechanic, Pub. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Vol 263 , 2010. p 340
  18. ^ Frank A. Kafker, Notable encyclopaedias of the late eighteenth century; eleven successors of the Encyclopédie, 1994 , p 249, n 102

References and sources

The religious content of the first volumes was re-written to reflect American sensibilities by Bishop William White, an Episcopalian, and Ashbel Green a Presbyterian.[18] Additional American material was incorporated into the text.

The American edition was published by Samuel F. Bradford, of Philadelphia.(see Samuel F. Bradford) . Bradford was a member of the famous dynasty of American printers. The first volume appeared in May 1806 and the last in December 1820. The work extended to 41 volumes of text and 6 of plates. There were 1,851 subscribers recorded. The initial print run was set at 2,500 copies, but Bradford was beset by financial problems, and the project passed to Murray, Draper Fairman and Company[16] who reduced the run to 2,000 copies. The work sold at $4 per half volume or $8 per volume. The full bound set cost $400 in 1820.[17]

Samuel Fisher Bradford. Publisher of the American edition of Rees's Cyclopædia. Original in the Art Institute of Chicago.

American edition

Except for some of the botanical articles by Sir James Edward Smith, none of the articles are signed. Names were recorded in the Prospectus of 1802, the introduction at the start of the first volume, the paper covers of the unbound parts which have survived, and in a paper in the Philosophical Magazine, published in 1820. The alphabetical List of contributors to Rees's Cyclopædia has been compiled from the foregoing sources. The majority appear in the Dictionary of National Biography, and in sources listed in the British Biographical Index, but these accounts rarely record an involvement with the Cyclopædia.

Among the artists and engravers employed were Aaron Arrowsmith (1750–1823) who engraved the maps; William Blake (1757–1827) who made engravings to illustrate some of the sculpture articles; Thomas Milton (1743–1827) who engraved most of the natural history plates; Wilson Lowry (1762–1824) who engraved numerous of the plates especially those relating to architecture, machinery and scientific instruments.

Amongst the eminent writers engaged by Rees were Dr Charles Burney (1726–1814) who wrote on music and musical biography; Dr Lant Carpenter (1780–1870) on education, mental and moral philosophy; Tiberius Cavallo (1799–1809) on electricity and magnetism; John Farey, sr. (1766–1826), on canals, geology, music and surveying; John Farey, jr. (1791–1851) on machinery, manufactures, steam engine, and water. He also contributed a great number of the illustrations; John Flaxman (1755–1826) on sculpture; Luke Howard (1772–1867) on meteorology; John Landseer (1769–1852) on engraving; Sir William Lawrence, (1783–1867) on human and comparative anatomy; Sir James Edward Smith (1759–1828) on botany; David Mushet on metallurgy and chemistry; Rev. William Pearson (1767–1847) on astronomy; Sir Thomas Phillips (1770–1875) on painting.

The Cyclopædia was written by about 100 contributors, most of whom were Nonconformists. They were specialists in their fields, covering science, technology, medicine, manufacturing, agriculture, banking and transportation, as well as the arts and humanities. A number were members of the teaching staffs of the Royal Military Academy, and the Addiscombe Military Seminary of the East India Company. Other contributors were working journalists who wrote for scientific, medical and technical periodicals of the time. Several of the contributors were active in radical politics; one was gaoled for sedition and another indicted for treason.


These were written by Charles Burney (1726-1814), with additional material by John Farey, sr (1766-1826), and John Farey, Jr (1791-1851), and illustrated by 53 plates as well a numerous examples of music typset within the articles. Charles Burney was well known as the author of A General History of Music, 4 vol 1776-1789 and two travel diaries recording his Musical Tours collecting information in France and Italy, and later Germany, 1+2 vol, 1771 and 1773, as well as the Commoration of Handel, 1785 and his Musical Memoirs of Metastasio, 1796. John Farey, sr (1766-1826) was a polymath, well known today for his work as a geologist and for his investigations of mathematics. He was greatly interested in the mathematics of sound, and the schemes of temperamant used in tuning musical instruments then, and published much about it in contemporary peridicals. His son, John Farey, jr (1791-1851), was also polymathic in his interests. He contributed numerous drawings for the illustrations of mostly technological and scientific topics in Rees, and would have written the descriptions of them. They are always linked by key-letters to the details of the drawings. The procedure would have been for Farey to make the drawing first, after usually inspecting and measuring the object, then write the description of it, with the key letters, which were then engraved on the plate for final printing. The plates for dramatic machinery, the organ and barrel organ are by him.

Main article:The music articles in Rees's Cyclopaedia

The music articles

Rees's Cyclopaedia has 3789 biographical articles half a page (350 words) and longer, as well as numerous briefer ones. They range in time from Antiquity to the eighteenth century. Sir James Edward Smith wrote a number of the botanical articles, (some of which are signed S), and Charles Burney the ones on Music. Benjamin Heath Malkin, and Thomas Rees are noted as having written biographical articles, but there is no information about which. The rest of the authors cannot be positively identified except for William Tooke, who wrote about Catherine the Great. Many of the biographical articles are sourced to the biographical reference books noted in 3.3 above. In most cases Christian names are Anglicised - John for Johannes, for example.

Main article: List of long biographical articles on Rees's Cyclopaedia

Biographical articles

Approximately 500 articles exceed 15 columns (11,000 words). The longest article is "Canal", by John Farey, Sr., 289 columns (210,000 words). John Landseer wrote 4 articles on schools of European engraving totalling over 600 columns (460,000 words).

Notable articles

Other sources cited include the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and similar scientific publications, commentaries relating to biblical scholarship and accounts of travels.

  • Bayle = Pierre Bayle, Dictionnaire Historique et Critique 1697
  • Biog. Brit. = William Oldys, Biographia Britannica, 6 vol, 1774-1766
  • Gen. Biog. = John Aikin [ and others] General biography or lives, critical and historical, of the most eminent persons of all ages, countries, conditions, and professions, arranged according to alphabetical order., 10 vol, 1799-1815
  • Gen. Dict. = Thomas Birch, General Dictionary...[of biography], 10 vol, 1734–41
  • Eloy, Dict. Hist. = Nicholas Francis Joseph Eloy, Dictionnaire Historique de la Medicine Ancienne at Moderne, 4 vol, 1778
  • Haller, Bib. Bot. = Albrecht von Haller, Bibliotheca Botanica, 2 vol, 1771
  • Haller, Bib. Chir. = Albrecht von Haller, Bibliotheca Chirurgica, 2 vol, 1774
  • Haller, Bib. Anat. = Albrecht von Haller, Bibliotheca Anatomica, 2 vol, 1774
  • Haller, Bib. Med. Pract. = Albrecht von Haller, Bibliotheca Medicinae Practicae, 4 vol, 1776–88
  • Laborde = Jean-Benjamin de Laborde, Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne 4 vol, 1780
  • Moreri = Louis Moréri, Le grand Dictionaire historique, ou le mélange curieux de l'histoire sacrée et profane 1674. The encyclopaedia focused particularly on historical and biographical articles. It was translated into English, German, Italian, Dutch and Spanish. A total of at least 20 different editions were published between 1674 (one volume) and 1759 (10 volumes).

Thus, a small example covering biography:

The long encyclopaedic articles in Rees commonly have a note at the end of the articles to the sources used in writing them. In other articles source references are run into the text. These are normally in a short-title form that will need decoding. Frequently these are in the format of surname of the author and a one or two word abbreviation of the book title. Collected works are similarly treated.

References in Rees's Cyclopaedia articles

The David and Charles reprint of some of the manufacturing articles is paged, and many writers cite this pagination, which is useless for consulting the original article from a full set. These reprints are also not comprehensive, as they omit short pieces under about 350 words.

  • 22 running from "B" to "Z"
  • 23 running from "Aa" to "Zz"
  • 23 running from "3A" to "3Z"
  • 23 running from "4A" to "4Z"
  • 23 running from "5A" to "5Z" or as far as needed

The gatherings in a typical volume of Rees are identified as follows. In each sequence the letters J and W are omitted and one letter U or V used but not both together.

" ("O" is the 8-page gathering's identifier.)  

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