The Chambers firm began issuing the first edition of Chambers's Encyclopaedia in parts starting in 1859. The parts were sold by subscription. Subscribers were given the option of buying weekly parts in 520 instalments at a penny halfpenny each or purchasing the same sheets bundled monthly at 7d (7 pence). The parts were printed and issued until the full run was complete. In 1860, the firm began producing the same sheets in bound editions, originally to span eight volumes, but the content expanded to ten volumes produced within an eight year framework. According to archival records, orders were steady, but initially slow. After 1868 when the attractive full ten-volume set was complete, the encyclopaedias eventually provided a steady income for the firm.
In contrast, the second edition of Chambers's Encyclopaedia was produced in collaboration with J.B. Lippincott, based in Philadelphia. This New Edition had the advantage of advanced publicity generated from the good reputation of the first edition, as well as of international advertisement. W. & R. Chambers had established a working relationship with the Philadelphia-based firm since 1853, and J. B. Lippincott had experience printing and distributing revised versions of the first edition of Chambers's Encyclopaedia, starting in 1872. In 1887, W. & R. Chambers formally entered into a contract with J. B. Lippincott to produce an international encyclopaedia in ten volumes. The contract between them spelled out the details of copyright, payments and production schedule.