Encyclopaedia, or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature: Constructed on a Plan, by Which the Different Sciences and Arts are Digested into the Form of Distinct Treatises or Systems, Comprehending the History, Theory, and Practice, of Each, According to the Latest Discoveries and Improvements; and Full Explanations Given of the Various Detached Parts of Knowledge, Whether Relating to Natural and Artificial Objects, or to Matters Ecclesiastical, Civil, Military, Commercial, &c...

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Encyclopaedia, or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature

Title page from Encyclopaedia, or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature, volume eight, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author {{{author}}}
Editor Thomas Dobson
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published Philadelphia: Printed by Thomas Dobson
Date 1798
Edition First American from third English
Language English
Volumes 18 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. 4to (28 cm.)
Location Shelf A-2
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

Thomas Dobson (c.1751-1823) was born near Edinburgh, Scotland, but immigrated to the United States with his wife and three daughters in 1783. Dobson operated a thriving printing shop in Philadelphia. He printed many notable works, but his claim to fame was sealed by his publication of the first American encyclopedia.

Dobson’s Encyclopaedia was largely a copy of the third edition Encyclopaedia Britannica, which had been published the year before, but Dobson sought to dispel what he perceived to be a British bias. The most notable differences regarded American geography and history, such as the surrender of the British in the American Revolution.[1] The encyclopedia was a hit amongst American scholars, and purchasers included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and George Wythe.[2]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "American Encyclopedia. 18.v. 4to." and kept by Thomas Jefferson. He later sold a copy of the 1798 edition of Encyclopaedia, or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature to the Library of Congress, but it no longer exists to verify Wythe's prior ownership.[3] Both George Wythe's Library[4] on LibraryThing and the Brown Bibliography[5] suggests the copy Jefferson sold may have been Wythe's copy. Brown also notes a second copy of this set owned by Jefferson and sold by his grandson, Francis Eppes in 1873. The Wolf Law Library purchased a copy of the 1798 edition.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in original full calf with black and red spine compartments. Bears the owner's signature of Josiah Calef on the title page of volume eight. Purchased from Charles Thomas.

View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.


  1. Robert Arner, Dobson’s Encyclopaedia: The Publisher, Text, and Publication of America’s First Britannica, 1789-1803 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991).
  2. James M. Wells, The Circle of Knowledge: Encyclopaedias Past and Present (Chicago: Newberry Library, 1968).
  3. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 2nd ed. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983), 5:150-151 [no.4891].
  4. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on April 21, 2013.
  5. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/13433.