See caption
Andrew Bell by George Watson
Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Bell (1725/6–1809) was a Scottish engraver, printer, and with his fellow printer Colin Macfarquhar co-founder of the Encyclopædia Britannica. He was probably born in Edinburgh, the son of John Bell, a baker.[1]

After having received little formal education, Bell was apprenticed to the engraver Richard Cooper, and began his career fulfilling commissions for engraving such items as plates, documents and dog collars.[2]

Bell has been described as “strikingly ugly” by his biographers, very short with an immense nose and deformed legs,[1] but he was able to make fun of his deformities; he deliberately rode the tallest horse available in Edinburgh and always mounted by a ladder, to the cheers of onlookers.[3] Bell married Anne Wake, the daughter of an excise officer, on 20 June 1756, and they had two daughters.[1]

Encyclopædia Britannica

The French Encyclopédie, published between 1751 and 1772, was the inspiration for the creation of the Encyclopædia Britannica,[3] but it is uncertain whether Bell or Macfarquahar was the first come up with the idea.[2] The first edition of Britannica appeared in instalments from 1768 to 1771, followed by a three-volume quarto set in 1771, edited by William Smellie and containing 160 plates by Bell.[1]

The Encyclopædia Britannica became a best-seller, netting Bell and Macfarquhar a sizeable fortune. On his death in Edinburgh on 10 June 1809, Bell’s estate included printing works, a linen factory, a house in a fashionable residential suburb of Edinburgh, and about £25,000, equivalent to about £2.15 million as at 2022.[1][a]Calculated using the real wealth value of £25,000 as at 1809.[4]


a Calculated using the real wealth value of £25,000 as at 1809.[4]



Kafker, Frank A. “Bell, Andrew (1725/6–1809).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Online, Oxford University Press, 2004,
Kafker, Frank A. “The Achievement of Andrew Bell and Colin Macfarguhar as the First Publishers of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.” Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 18, no. 2, Sept. 1995, pp. 139–52.
Kogan, Herman. The Great EB; The Story of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. University of Chicago Press, 1958.
MeasuringWorth. Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount, 1270 to Present. 2020,