With most reference materials, only the latest, most current information will do. But when it comes to a vintage or antique dictionary, the older and more out-of-date a publication is the better. One of the earliest volumes of interest to Western book collectors is “Cyclopedia, or an Universal Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences,” which was written by Ephraim Chambers and published in London in 1728. Despite its clunky title, the work is said to have influenced the most famous early Western dictionary, Samuel Johnson's "A Dictionary of the English Language," first published in London in 1755.

Johnson spent eight years on his two-volume opus, whose major innovation was to illustrate definitions of words with quotes from Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Swift, and others. A worthy companion to Johnson’s dictionary is James Boswell’s two-volume “The Life of Samuel Johnson,” 1791, which is filled with quotes by the great lexicographer himself, his most famous pronouncement being, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Next came Noah Webster's "A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language," which was published in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1806. Webster simplified spelling for American readers, dropping the “u” in words like “honour” and “humour” and the “k” in “publick” and “musick.” In 1828, his “An American Dictionary of the English Language” had evolved into a larger revised edition, which was published after his death by G. & C. Merriam Co. in 1843.

The granddaddy of English dictionaries, though, remains the "Oxford English Dictionary" or OED, first conceived in 1857 and published in pieces from 1884 through 1928. Whereas Johnson’s dictionary had contained 42,733 words and Webster’s a relatively paltry 37,000 or so, the OED boasted more than 400,000 entries. In 1885, other English scholars completed the “Dictionary of National Biography,” whose mandate to cover only deceased Britons of note guaranteed numerous updates, like when Queen Victoria passed away in 1901.

One of the chief characteristics of antique, analog dictionaries is their bulk, necessitating special pieces of furniture so their contents can be comfortably consumed. Some portable dictionary stands are meant to fit on the tops of desks or cabinets. Others integrate the stand with the base, which might have a drawer for a magnifying glass to help those reading the tiny entries in the OED, as well as shelves for the dictionary’s other volumes (the latest edition has 20).

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Google Book Search

Google Book Search

Want to do one quick search and pull up the mother lode of vintage books? Try Google Book Search, a database filled… [read review or visit site]



Bruce Black's gallery of paperback book covers from the 1940s and 50s. With help from numerous contributors, he's a… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Oxford English Dictionary Leather Set Limited Ed Oed Compact Franklin Library1860 Medical Dictionary Surgery Anatomy Civil War Era Antique Instruments Tools1856 Antique Slang Dictionary Dartmouth Harvard Yale College Customs FraternityEaston Press Lot Of 3 Books - Dictionary Of Quotations - Dictionary - Thesaurus6vols London & Environs *1761* Plates Maps Antiquities Dictionary Architecture1693 German-latin Dictionary Martin Luther Frisius Theologian Lexicography NrBlack"s 1910 Law Dictionary Second EditionExtremely Scarce Postincunable Of Bersuire's Bible Dictionary, 4 Copies RecordedVintage Set Oxford Universal English Dictionary -10 Volumes- Copyright 19371868 Assyrian Dictionary Edwin Norris Cuneiform 1st Ed Part I Babylonia EnglishAntique 1897 The Century Dictionary & Cyclopedia Vol. X Atlas Historical Dictionary Painters Of All Schools 1856 Edition Vellum Binding FrenchA Dictionary Of The Bible - William Smith. Antique. Vintage Vtg 1884.illustratedAntique Books: Dictionary Of Greek And Roman Biography And Mythology, 1880Black's Law Dictionary De Luxe Revised Forth Edition 1968Dictionary Of Alaska Place Names By Donald Orth, 1971 2nd Revised PrintingSmaller Classical Dictionary (1913) Everyman's LibraryDictionary Holy Bible, American Tract Society, 1859Webster's Condensed Dictionary Twentieth Century Edition 19061906 Antique Noah Webster Unabridged English Dictionary Book1900s Webster's Twentieth Century Dictionary Unabridged Publishers Guild Ny UsaRare Esperanto-english Dictionary 1967A Dictionary Of Ballet Terms Hb 1st Edition 1953Holy Bible Dictionary Concordance Christ Word In Red New King James Version 1983Antique 1893 Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary 2 Volumes Leather Good +Wood's Unabridged Rhyming Dictionary, 1943, Hardcover, Clement Wood, PoetryLittle Blue Book 1736, Sexological Dictionary, Print Circa 1930Mulhall's Dictionary Of Statistics 1884Jordanoff's Illustrated Aviation Dictionary By Assen Jordanoff (1942, Hardback)1935 Concise Oxford French Dictionary Biplane & Auto Part Names!Antique Book-1892-illustrated-webster Common School English Dictionary-learningWebster S Unabridged Dictionary 320,000 Definitions Full Color Maps HugeStandard Dictionary English Language 1893 Edition 2 Volume Leather Set Massive1968 Second Edition Vintage Websters Unabridged Dictionary New Twentieth CenturyDictionary Of Americanisms John Russell Bartlett 1877 Glossary Of Words Phrases1898 Yiddish English Yiddish Dictionary Harkavy's Book Complete Great History!Rare 1874 Dictionary Of Medical Science Book By Dunglison Henry C LeaStephen Jones Sheridan's Dictionary 1798 Vernor & Hood Leather HistoryAntiquarian Dictionary Russian English Published Moscow 1961 1st Ed LanguageDictionary Of Hammond Organ Stops By Stevens Irwin B3 A100 X66Dictionary Of Music - Mattew & Liebling - 1896Dictionary Of Quotations In Prose - American & Foreign, Anna L Ward - 18891936 **rare Hardcover** Pocket Webster Dictionary Self-pronouncingAntique Books: Medical, Dictionary, Kipling