Encyclopedie book, the 18th century's 'greatest literary undertaking,' is for sale

You're looking at the largest literary undertaking ever produced during the 18th century.

That, at least, is how the "Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers" was described by French bibliographer Jacques Charles Brunet.

This version of the Encyclopédie is appearing for sale in Paris on March 6. It dates to the period 1751-1780.

The rare books comprise 17 volumes of text, including 11 volumes of plates and five volumes of supplements. Among these are 3,100 plates. Some are double-paged, others are extendible.


By Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert, Diderot began work on the Encyclopédie in 1749. His original plan was to translate the Encyclopedia of Chambers.

Progress on the translation was slow, however. The resulting "Dictionary of the sciences, arts and crafts" instead summarised and propagated the doctrines of various independent European philosophers.

Encyclopédie consequently drew opposition from Jesuits and a host of other powerful opponents.

French philosopher, art critic, and writer Diderot's indomitable perseverance saw the project through. D'Alembert didn't have the same tenacity and retired from the company after the publication of Volume VII.

Collaborators for the Encyclopédie aside from d'Alembert included Blondel, Buffon, Rousseau, Turgot and Voltaire. Its subjects range from figurative systems of human knowledge, genealogical distributions of sciences and arts, and divisions in Africa and Europe.

This version of the book is described as a "very nice copy, despite minor defects to bindings, [some] snagging" and damage to the book's hinges. The Encyclopédie is expected to sell for €20,000-30,000 when it auctions in March.


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