There were three types of illustration styles that Chambers used in their publications. They can be classified as pictorial, facsimile and schematic.

Some illustrations fit more than one category:

From left to right above, examples of pictorial, facsimile and schematic-style illustrations from the first and second editions of Chambers's Encyclopaedia

Above: From left to right above, examples of pictorial, facsimile and schematic-style illustrations from the first and second editions of Chambers's Encyclopaedia. Further examples of all these styles are shown in the slideshows below.

Comparing both editions of Chambers's encyclopaedias demonstrates how styles of illustration and graphic design altered throughout the 19th century. The first edition seems to favour pictorial illustration, while the second edition seems to favour facsimile style of representation.

Pie chart showing how styles of illustration and graphic design altered throughout the 19th century

Above: Piecharts showing the distribution of pictorial, facsimile and schematic illustrations in the first and second editions of Chambers's Encyclopaedias.

While the use of what can be termed schematic illustration remained proportionally the same, the style for second edition schematics, created 20 years after the first ones, is influenced by the methods of framing and presentation dictated by photography. 

Illustrations showing plant respiration and the abdomen.

Above: Illustrations showing plant respiration (left) from the second edition and the organs of the chest and abdomen from the first edition.

Changing illustration styles of woodpeckers

Above: Historic illustrations of the same species compared with a modern illustration from the RSPB. Illustrations from encyclopaedias,  that were published closer to the middle of the 19th century (top row) have a more pictorial style.  Later in the century, illustrations adopt a facsimile style, influenced by photography.

There were also trends in the topics selected for inclusion of these reference works. These trends extended to the way publishers chose to illustrate – or not illustrate – these entries.

Early 19th century encyclopaedias were meant for an elite reader, educated in classical languages, philosophy and humanities subjects. By the middle to late 19th century, publishers were targeting a middle and upper working class readership. In contrast to earlier encyclopaedias, Chambers did not include a long philosophical essay at the beginning of its volumes. Instead, there was merely a short preface by the editors introducing the body of the content. By initially issuing the work in many parts  a method they had perfected with earlier publications such as Chambers’s Information for the People in the 1830s  the W. & R. Chambers firm produced an encyclopaedia that was more accessible as well as more affordable, due to its use of illustrations and alphabetical rather than thematic subject ordering. They included cross-referencing of topics and indexes. They emphasized these accessible features in the preface to the first edition.  

"One great aim in the arrangement of the work has been to render it easy of consultation [their emphasis].  It is expressly a Dictionary in one alphabet, as distinguished on the one hand from a collection of exhaustive treatises, and, on the other, from a set of Dictionaries of special branches of knowledge. To save the necessity of wading through a long treatise in order to find, perhaps, a single fact, the various masses of systematic knowledge have been broken up, as it were, to as great a degree as is consistent with the separate explanation of the several fragments. Throughout the articles, however, there will be found copious references to other heads with which they stand in natural connection; and thus, while a single fact is readily found, its relations to other facts is not lost sight of."

Bill Katz, a prolific author on book history and library resources, writes that the first edition of Chambers’s Encyclopaedia was influential, and set the format for hundreds of reference books produced by both American and British publishers until the end of the Second World War.

The first edition's ten-volume set cost as little as 5 shillings 7 pence per volume if purchased without covers. The cost for the second edition was £5 for 10 volumes, though payment could be made in instalments. In contrast, the 9th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica was published in 25 volumes between 1875-1889 and sold at £1 10 shillings for each volume.

At the start of the 19th century, there was an increased interest in gathering numerical data on a wide variety of topics. An early result was the establishment of the first statistical societies, beginning with the Statistical Society of London, organised by Adolphe Quetelet and Charles Babbage in February 1834. Government agencies in the UK, France and the US routinely collected information on weather, transport, industry, commerce as well as census data, and it became possible for people studying statistics to make data-driven discoveries. This trend correlates with what scholar, Michael Friendly, characterises as a golden age in statistical graphics, from 1850 to 1900. 

This data gathering, combined with new printing technologies, enabled people to come up with inventive ways of representing complex information in a graphical way. The Chambers firm made use of new data and graphical conventions in both encyclopaedia editions in the form of tables and fold-out maps inserted into each volume. These colour maps were printed by established Edinburgh cartographic publishers J. Bartholomew and W. & A. K. Johnson. While political maps are included in both editions, updated to reflect changing political realities that occurred over a two-decade period, the second edition further included a greater number of fold-out maps displaying other types of data. For example, a physical map displayed features like volcanoes, land elevation, as well as wind and ocean currents. 

Physical map of Africa

Above: Physical map of Africa, presented as a fold-out plate in the second edition, volume 1, 1888.

The number of visual graphics increased between editions, as the number of pictorial illustrations decreased. By the second edition, Chambers's Encyclopaedia editors seem to be prioritising visual material in the form of tables, which convey more factual information, as opposed to images that had a more decorative as well as instructive function.

  Illustrations Fold-out Maps Tables
1st edition 4,066 33 506
2nd edition 3,256 48 567

Striking examples between editions can be seen in the entries for 'Agriculture' and 'Parasites'. While illustrations with significant details were chosen by editors for the first edition, the tables used in the second edition allow for more factual information to be displayed in a format which is easy to consult. Rather than using illustration, the visualisations in the second edition are more data-driven.

Comparison of agriculture illustrations and table

Above: The illustration for Agriculture in the first edition (left) was replaced by a table in the second edition.

Parasites illustration and table comparison

Above: The illustration for Parasites in the first edition (left) was replaced by a table in the second edition.

Pictorial-style images

Colosseum, from First Edition, volume 1, page 214, 1860.

Above: Colosseum, from First Edition, volume 1, page 214, 1860.

Drawings and engravings in a pictorial style trace their roots to a late 18th-century aesthetic, when concepts of the beautiful, the sublime, and the picturesque were tied to the ideals of 'good taste' found in art, literature and music. Wood engraved illustrations produced in the earlier 19th century had a visual aesthetic which gave an impression the artist might lack access to primary sources or presented a romanticised vignette of a scene, although depicting actual objects or settings. The engravers were aiming for accuracy within the confines of a pictorial style and the knowledge available to them and their viewers. They wanted to convey to a readership with little access to any illustrated material a sense of understanding of technologies, places, people or objects never previously experienced.

Facsimile-style images

Colosseum-Exterior, from Second Edition, volumne 1, page 238, 1888.

Above: Colosseum-Exterior, from Second Edition, volume 1, page 238, 1888. 

New Zealand Chief's face tattooed, from First Edition, volume 9, page 313, 1867.

Above: New Zealand Chief's face tattooed (from a photograph), from First Edition, volume 9, page 313, 1867.

In contrast to pictorial-style images, the idea of facsimile-style representation was to depict a subject in as realistic a way as possible or show how it would be encountered in the real world. From the 1860s, photography became increasingly recognised, within scientific communities in particular, as a medium which conveyed 'mechanical objectivity'. Images which related stylistically to photographs were therefore equally deemed to convey authority.

Many scientists, including Charles Darwin, used photographs in scientific journals as a means of presenting evidence of their findings. Newspapers and periodicals increasingly used photographs – or images that mimicked photographs – as a means of conveying a sense of objectivity. Many publishers, including W. & R. Chambers, started adding the phrase 'based on a photograph' as part of a caption, as a way of conveying to readers their images were authentic and authoritative.

The slideshow below shows examples of pictorial style illustrations compared with facsimile versions.

  • Aye-aye, from First Edition, volume 1, page 587, 1860.

    Aye-aye, from First Edition, volume 1, page 587, 1860.
  • Head and Fore-feet of Aye-aye on larger scale (From Owen), from Second Edition, volume 1, page 618, 1888.

    Head and Fore-feet of Aye-aye on larger scale (From Owen), from Second Edition, volume 1, page 618, 1888.
  • Bull-dog, from First Edition, volume 2, page 420, 1861.

    Bull-dog, from First Edition, volume 2, page 420, 1861.
  • Bulldog, from Second Edition, volume 2, page 539, 1888.

    Bulldog, from Second Edition, volume 2, page 539, 1888.
  • Esquimaux Dogs, and sledge for one person, from First Edition, volume 4, page 130, 1862.

    Esquimaux Dogs, and sledge for one person, from First Edition, volume 4, page 130, 1862.
  • Eskimo Winter Station, Greenland, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 422, 1889.

    Eskimo Winter Station, Greenland, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 422, 1889.
  • Head of Pteropus (bat), from First Edition, volume 1, page 741, 1860.

    Head of Pteropus (bat), from First Edition, volume 1, page 741, 1860.
  • Greater horseshoe bat, from Second Edition, volume 1, page 788, 1888.

    Greater horseshoe bat, from Second Edition, volume 1, page 788, 1888.
  • Dromedary, from First Edition, volume 3, page 674, 1862.

    Dromedary, from First Edition, volume 3, page 674, 1862.
  • Domedary, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 94, 1889.

    Domedary, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 94, 1889.
  • Sea Elephant, from First Edition, volume 3, page 827, 1862.

    Sea Elephant, from First Edition, volume 3, page 827, 1862.
  • Elephant-seal, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 292, 1889.

    Elephant-seal, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 292, 1889.

Schematic-style images

Dredging machine, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 91, 1889.

Above: Dredging machine, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 91, 1889.

A schematic illustration is used to convey abstract information, usually incorporating graphic symbols rather than realistic pictures. The Cambridge Dictionary states that a schematic illustration shows the main form while highlighting specific features, usually in the form of a drawing, in order to simplify a concept or to help people understand it. Maps and diagrams are examples of schematic illustrations.

  • Paper making machine, from First Edition, volume 7, page 244, 1865.

    Paper making machine, from First Edition, volume 7, page 244, 1865.
  • Paper making machine, from First Edition, volume 7, page 245, 1865.

    Paper making machine, from First Edition, volume 7, page 245, 1865.
  • A Great Bat or Noctule Bat b Greater Horseshoe Bat, from First Edition, volume 1, page 741, 1860.

    A Great Bat or Noctule Bat b Greater Horseshoe Bat, from First Edition, volume 1, page 741, 1860.
  • Egyptian objects made of glass , from First Edition, volume 3, page 793, 1862.

    Egyptian objects made of glass , from First Edition, volume 3, page 793, 1862.
  • Skeleton of bat, from First Edition, volume 1, page 740, 1860.

    Skeleton of bat, from First Edition, volume 1, page 740, 1860.
  • Pedestal, from First Edition, volume 7, page 349, 1860.

    Pedestal, from First Edition, volume 7, page 349, 1860.
  • Fig.1 (The contrast between protoplasmic and chlorophyllic processes), from Second Edition, volume 10, page 441, 1892.

    Fig.1 (The contrast between protoplasmic and chlorophyllic processes), from Second Edition, volume 10, page 441, 1892.
  • Isothermal Lines showing the Mean Temperature of the Globe for July, from Second Edition, volume 10, page 122, 1892.

    Isothermal Lines showing the Mean Temperature of the Globe for July, from Second Edition, volume 10, page 122, 1892.
  • Map showing new Baltic and North Sea Canal, from Second Edition, volume 1, page 693, 1888.

    Map showing new Baltic and North Sea Canal, from Second Edition, volume 1, page 693, 1888.
  • Comparative Sizes of Earth and Moon, from First Edition, volume 7, page 296, 1865.

    Comparative Sizes of Earth and Moon, from First Edition, volume 7, page 296, 1865.
  • Plan of the Catacombs of St Agnes, Rome, from Second Edition, volume 2, page 823, 1888.

    Plan of the Catacombs of St Agnes, Rome, from Second Edition, volume 2, page 823, 1888.

Facsimile-schematic style illustrations

Some images do not fall neatly into any one category. Sometimes they have elements of two illustration styles. One of the most common combinations, especially in the second edition, is the facsimile-schematic illustration style. The examples below show that, while there is an attempt to depict an object or place in a realistic style, the labels and captions highlight specific features.

  • Different Kinds of bacteria (mostly after Koch), from Second Edition, volume 1, page 649, 1888.

    Different Kinds of bacteria (mostly after Koch), from Second Edition, volume 1, page 649, 1888.
  • Thomson Boiler, from First Edition, volume 9, page 105, 1867.

    Thomson Boiler, from First Edition, volume 9, page 105, 1867.
  • Dragon-fly and Nymph, from First Edition, volume 3, page 656, 1862.

    Dragon-fly and Nymph, from First Edition, volume 3, page 656, 1862.
  • Metamorphoses of Dragon-fly, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 77, 1889.

    Metamorphoses of Dragon-fly, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 77, 1889.
  • New York map, from Second Edition, volume 7, page 483, 1891.

    New York map, from Second Edition, volume 7, page 483, 1891.
  • Japanese Ambassadors to Europe 1872 (From a photography by Vernon Heath), from First Edition, volume 5, page 684, 1863.

    Japanese Ambassadors to Europe 1872 (From a photography by Vernon Heath), from First Edition, volume 5, page 684, 1863.

Facsimile-photographic style illustrations

However photographic the look of an image, all were achieved by professional wood engravers adapting a range of pictorial syntaxes, that is, the type of marks they made on a block to produce a certain look in a printed image. By the last few decades of the 19th century, wood-engraved images increasingly referenced photographic protocols in an attempt to counter the newer technology beginning to dominate the world of illustration, although in the case of the Chambers illustrations no photo processes were involved in their production.

  • Japanese Ambassadors to Europe 1872 (From a photography by Vernon Heath), from First Edition, volume 5, page 684, 1863.

    Japanese Ambassadors to Europe 1872 (From a photography by Vernon Heath), from First Edition, volume 5, page 684, 1863.
  • Arch of Titus, from Second Edition, volume 1, page 381, 1888.

    Arch of Titus, from Second Edition, volume 1, page 381, 1888.
  • Portion of Panathenaic Frieze, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 293, 1889.

    Portion of Panathenaic Frieze, from Second Edition, volume 4, page 293, 1889.
  • Colosseum-Interior, from Second Edition, volume 1, page 238, 1888.

    Colosseum-Interior, from Second Edition, volume 1, page 238, 1888.
  • Fig. 4-English Breech-loading Field-gun and Limber-12-pounder, from Second Edition, volume 2, page 715, 1888.

    Fig. 4-English Breech-loading Field-gun and Limber-12-pounder, from Second Edition, volume 2, page 715, 1888.
  • Buddhist Monks with their pupils, Burma, from Second Edition, volume 2, page 564, 1888.

    Buddhist Monks with their pupils, Burma, from Second Edition, volume 2, page 564, 1888.
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Illustrations by subject

Image content analysis is used as a tool by researchers to determine patterns of use when studying large groups of images. Illustrations from both editions of Chambers's Encyclopaedia were sorted into subject categories to enable research into trends in illustration frequency and type, when comparing the two editions published 20 years apart.
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