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Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge: Popular scientific prints (Inv. No. 82823, Inv. No. 77792)

The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge was conceived by Henry Broughton in 1825, and had its first meeting in London the following year. Founded on Whig and Utilitarian principles, they sought to provide information on scientific topics, free of controversial material, for self-improvement. Between 1826 and 1848 they published maps, pamphlets and portrait prints. The Society was linked to the recently established University College London, and prominent social reformers, such as James Stuart Mill, Henry Hallam, Isaac Goldsmid, and James Allen, were included among its members.

Most of the society 's output was published by the London publisher Charles Knight (1791'1873). Knight was interested, early in his career, in establishing a 'national library' of informative abridgements of useful works. Connected to the society through Broughton, he came to publish most of the society 's works and produced both a 'Library of Useful Knowledge ' and a 'Library of Entertaining Knowledge ' between 1829'37. As the SUPK's works were heavily illustrated, he was connected to a range of prolific engravers.

The Print Collection includes at least ten examples of portraits published by Knight under the diffusion of the SUPK. They comprise a mix of stipple and line engraving, often used in combination. The print of English astronomer Edmund Halley, (Inv. No. 82823) was made by W.T. Fry (1789Â?1843), who was one of the first engravers to experiment with steel plates. The portrait of Ambroise Paré (Inv. No. 77792) was engraved by William Holl the Younger (1807Â?1871), who came from a family of engravers.  Holl made engravings of the Royal Family for most of his career. James Thomson was another such figure and portrait engraver who worked with Knight.

The SUPK aimed their output at artisans, but it was predominantly purchased by a middle class market. Because it avoided from controversial debates, the SUPK's output was mainly bought by adolescents and their parents.


Rosemary Mitchell, Â?Knight, Charles (1791Â?1873)Â?, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 8 Oct 2013]


Related Objects:

Inventory No. 82823, "Print (Engraving) Edmond Halley, engraved by W.T. Fry, London, 19th century", Fry, William Thomas, Halley, Dr Edmond