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 But when it comes to a vintage or antique dictionary, the older and more out-of-date a publication is the better.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    

Julius Pollux *1541* Onomasticon Binding Latin Attic Greek Thesaurus DictionaryThe Gardeners Dictionary, Philip Miller 1763. 12 Plates Incl. Wine, ForestryA Geographical Dictionary 1681, Most Eminent Countreys, Towns In The Whole WorldC1730 Polygraphic Dictionary Engraved Foldout Plates Art Mixing Colours Paints A Dictionary Of The Bible By William Smith 3 Vol's In 4 - 1893Old Dictionary Of English Language Leather Book 1852 Samuel Johnson Antique Huge1878 1st Ed Zells Popular Encyclopedia Dictionary Maps Atlas Astronomy MilitaryLocomotive Dictionary And Cyclopedia, Fifth Edition, 1919 Heavily Illustrated1727 Dictionary Dictionnaire Of Boyer . French To English & English To French . Old Concordance / Dictionary To Holy Scriptures Book 1785 Christian Bible GospelAntique Book Dunglison's Medical Dictionary Hc 18741787 Life Samuel Johnson Sir John Hawkins 1st Edition Leather Dictionary EnglandVintage Dictionary/the Little Webster-18000 Words/leather Bound/very Nice/799 PgVtg 1951 Webster's New 20th Century Dictionary Of English Language 11 Lbs Maps The Youth's Companion Or An Historical Dictionary By Ezra Sampson 1816 Very RareLot Of 6 Gregg Shorthand Dictionary Phrases Simplified Vintage Functional MethodVintage 1820 An Abridgment Of Ainsworth Dictionary BookVintage Compact Edition Of Oxford English Dictionary Book Set Huge Large Folio +1724 An Universal Etymological English Dictionary By N Baily. Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary Of The English Language 1956Folio Society: The Devil's Dictionary By Abrose Bierce 2003Webster Old Dictionary On The English Language Dated 1869 Collectable1728 Neologic Dictionary French Letters Desfontaines Pantalon-phoebus MemoirsGreat 1930s Lilliput Dictionary Miniaturetranslation Book Russian To French Gay Way Picture Dictionary Er Boyce Vintage Reading Scheme 1961 MacmillanVintage 1950s The Winston Dictionary For Schools With Color Plates!Webster Dictionary & Home Reference Little & Ives Complete & Unabridged 1963 1stYouman’s Dictionary Of Everyday Wants Book 1876 How To Do EverythingWebster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary Of The English Language Unabr 1956The Little Webster 18000 Words Miniature Leather Bound DictionaryVintage 1957,1958 Complete And Unabridged The Little & Ives Webster Dictionary Webster's Vintage Unabridged 1957 Huge English Dictionary 13lbs 1906 Haydns Dictionary Of Dates And Universal Information China Ireland RussiaAntique 1924 Pocket Law Dictionary 3rd Edition Of Cochran's Law Lexicon