John Wilkes

Encyclopaedia londinensis, or,

Universal dictionary of arts, sciences, and literature


Originally from Winchester, John Wilkes was an established London printer, bookseller and publisher, and the proprietor of the Hampshire Chronicle, one of England’s oldest continuing publications. In 1810 Wilkes published the first eight volumes of his Encyclopaedia londinensis with a volume published almost every year thereafter until the twenty fourth and last in 1829. Compiled and arranged by Wilkes much of the information came from other small works not always his own as was often the case with such compendiums, and indeed he was successfully sued for piracy for the not unsubstantial sum of £100 by Charles Roworth author of Art of Defence with the Broad Sword.

Many of the engravings for the Encyclopaedia londinensis were executed by the extremely gifted John Pass, also originally from Winchester. Pass used his own work as well as existing images by some of the most accomplished artists of his time, making amendments where necessary to correlate to the Encyclopaedia. Sadly Pass’s lasting fame came not from his life but rather his death. In 1832 whilst collecting a debt Pass was brutally murdered in the workshop of the young printer James Cook. Cook dismembered the body but having become quite inebriated left the pieces burning in an open grate and went home. The chimney caught fire and neighbours alerted the police; Cook absconded but was later arrested trying to gain passage to America. He was hanged in Leicester; his body was ‘anatomised’ by students, then redressed, placed in a gibbet, and put on display. He was the last man in England to be so exhibited; the crowd became so disorderly and ‘licentious’ that he was immediately buried.

The Encyclopaedia londinensisis provides an eloquent visual presentation of the history and most recent developments in the Arts and Sciences of the time, and serves as an extraordinary record of the talents of Pass and his contemporaries. These particular examples of the Encyclopaedia londinensisis are in fine original hand colour, expertly and lavishly applied with no expense spared.

Below are a few examples from this collection. Please click on an image to see it in high-resolution with details of the work itself. For the full list of original antique Wilkes engravings available,  please do contact us.