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 But when it comes to a vintage or antique dictionary, the older and more out-of-date a publication is the better.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

Bookscans.com

Bookscans.com

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    

Coles Book Arcade Worlds Smallest Dictionary And Locket Pendant CaseGardeners Dictionary *1771* Miller Husbandry Wine Trees Fruit Kitchen EngravingsAntique Miniature Book & Original Case Smallest English French Dictionary1753 Hebrew Holy Bible Judaica Biblia Hebraica Simonis + Torah Manual DictionaryRare Christian Dictionary *1616* Thomas Wilson Words Phrases Testament Bible Large Parallel Family Holy Bible 15.5 Lb1800's Antiques Dictionary Cities Old1843 Dictionary Of Commerce & Navigation Maps Opium Beer Whale Hunting WhalingPronouncing Gaelic Dictionary By Neil Mcalpine- 2nd Ed.h/b 1833 -gaelic/english Antique Book Leather 1872 Dictionary Of American Biography No ReserveCompact Edition Oxford English Dictionary W/box & Magnifying Lens Vg ConditionHuge Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary English Language 1946 Vtg ~antique1816 Dictionary Of Arts & Sciences Encyclopedia 2v. Illustrated Early AmericanLot Antique Christian Books Methodist Baxters Saint Rest Hymnal Bible DictionaryLeather Bound 1880's Parallel Bible Dictionary IllustratedAntique 1881 William Smith Holy Bible, Incl Dictionary Concordance ChronologicalMiniature Book: English Dictionary David Bryce & Son 1896 1863 Civil War Era Army And Navy Pocket Dictionary-william Webster {mason Bros.}Webster's Universal Unabridged Dictionary 1936 - Both Vol 1 & 2Antique Century Dictionary1855, Leather The Union Bible Dictionary, Sunday School, Religious Engravings1816 Dictionary Of Arts & Sciences, William Nicholson, Human KnowledgeGenealogical Dictionary Of Maine And New Hampshire Ancestry History New EnglandLarge Webster's International Dictionary Unabridged ~ Leather Edition ~ 1898Miniature Books: Two (2) Dictionaries English-dutch 1956 & German-english 1964Very Rare Lilliput Langenscheidt 9 Minature Dictionaries1891 Elementary Latin Dictionary By Charlton Lewis3 Vintage Webster's Dictionary 1895 Vest Pocket Nice SetAntique 1873 Teachers Pocket Bible Dictionary Vtg Audels Illustrated New Electric Library, Dictionary, Oil Burner Guide 8 VolWebster's Universal Unabridged Dictionary And Atlas Of The World 1937 Vol 2Bible Nkjv Vine's Expository Reference Edition Red Letter Dictionary LeatherLot Set 5 Vintage Midget Dictionary Books Belgium 1964 Leather English French NrGeneological Dictionary Of The First Settlers Of New England James Savage Vol 1Geneological Dictionary Of The First Settlers Of New England Vol 3Adler's German And English DictionaryEnglish Fine Leather Bound Dictionary With Sterling Silver Plaque - Sheffield1930 Law Dictionary With Pronunciatons By James A BallentineThe Macmillan Dictionary Of Quotations Easton Press Leather Bound Gilt Edge1989Nurse’s Dictionary 1895 Morten Call Of Nurse 1926 Nursing3 Vintage Dictionaries- 1940 Webster , Cassell's 1966 Spanish 1965 GermanThe Dickens Dictionary_ Gilbert A. PierceWebster's Collegiate Dictionary - Fifth Edition 1939 Thin Paper Hc A New Dictionary Of Quotations On Historical Principles... By H.l. MenckenThe New Dictionary Of Thoughts - Tryon Edwards - 1954 Hardcover1925 Hb Peloubet's Bible Dictionary1960 Antique Webster's Illustrated Dictionary Old Vintage EnglishGenealogical Dictionary Of The First Settlers Of New England Vol 4