Zedler’s Encyclopaedia

Object: Zedlers Universallexikon (Zedler’s Encyclopaedia)
Opened double-page from Johann Heinrich Zedler’s Großes vollständiges Universallexikon aller Wissenschaften und Künste (Great Complete Encyclopaedia of All Sciences and Arts) and beside that two further volumes seen from the rear)
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig

Zedler’s Encyclopaedia

The knowledge of the times in around 300,000 articles, 1732-1750

The publisher undertakes this universal lexicon as a work / which no other / either in Germany or outside in other empires and states, may dare to do.

Johann Heinrich Zedler, Grosses Universal-Lexicon, 1732

The most comprehensive and important German-speaking encyclopaedia of the 18th century was published over the course of more than 20 years by the Leipzig-based publisher Johann Heinrich Zedler. From 1732 onwards, he released 64 full volumes and 4 supplemental editions of the Großes vollständiges Universallexikon aller Wissenschaften und Künste, known today simply as “der Zedler”.

A host of academic staff worked on compiling the knowledge of their age into a total of 284,000 articles on the most diverse range of topics, all arranged into keywords from A to Z, including a host of biographical and geographical information. In the absence of plagiarism laws, the content was not always original. The business model behind the work was risky as it sourced funding through advance purchase subscriptions. A number of legal disputes with other publishers ultimately drove Zedler to bankruptcy. It was only with the help of the businessman Johann Henrich Wolff that the encyclopaedia could be completed in 1750.