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 But when it comes to a vintage or antique dictionary, the older and more out-of-date a publication is the better.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

The Complete English Dictionary By Frederick Barlow - 1772 2 Vols In 11783 Calmet Historical Dictionary Of The Holy Bible Biblical Geography LeatherA Law Dictionary United States Of America 1839 John Bouvier 2volumes 1st EditionA Dictionary Of The English Language Compiled From Dr. Johnson - 1825A Dictionary Of The Bible~antiquities, Biography,geography, History~illust~maps~1807 John Walker Critical Pronouncing Dictionary English Language Early Usa Dict1895 Funk & Wagnalls Illustrated Dictionary American Antique ChromolithographsDouay Rheims Latin Vulgate Catholic Bible 1938 Illustrated Dictionary/embossed Seyffert's Dictionary Of Classical Antiquities - Nettleship Mythology OccultDictionary Of Cults, Sects, Religions And The Occult, George Mather L A NicholsLangenscheidt's Lilliput Dictionary English-spanishAntique Dictionary 1895 Funk & Wagnall Illustrated 2 Volume Set Leather Gilt Black's Law Dictionary 4th Revised Ed West 1968 Pronunciation Ethics Legal Book2 Vintage Big Wonder Books ~ A Child's First Picture Dictionary, Abc & CountingWilliam Cobbett. A New French And English Dictionary In Two Parts.1833.1st Edit1883 Dictionary American Language By Noah Webster, Ll.dVintage 1942 Large New 20th Century Webster Dictionary UnabridgedThe Collector's Dictionary Of Silver And Gold Of Great Britain And North AmericaEnglish Japanese Conversation Dictionary Used In Ww Ii Vaccari 1945 Hardback Lot Of 4 Miniature Dictionaries Eline's Chocolate Abbott's Antique Vintage 1922Gregg Shorthand Dictionary 1901, Leather Bound, Small BookThe Devil's Dictionary By Ambrose Bierce Hardcover 1941 First Printing Websters New School & Office Dictionary 1962Webster's Ever-ready Dictionary 1924 With Inscription 1928Vine's Expository Dictionary Of Biblical Words, 1985, HbdjAntique Book American Popular Dictionary Of The English Language 1879A Dictionary Of Anecdotes Chiefly Historical And Illustrative Vol. 2 - 1809The New Dictionary Of Dreams.hardcover W/sleeve. Excellent Condition. Vintage 1961 "allied Dictionary Of Electronic Terms" Allied Radio Of Chicago IlBishop Baraga, Dictionary Of The Otchipwe Language, Part 1, Ojibwa Michigan 1878Bishop Baraga, Dictionary Of The Otchipwe Language, Part 2, Ojibwa Michigan 1880The Winston Simplified Dictionary For Schools Shorter Edition, 1937The Illustrated Texas Dictionary Of The English Language Vol 1 2 3 Jim EverhartRare! Easton Press The Firefly Spanish English Visual Dictionary LeatherWebster's 1926 New International Dictionary Of The English Language The Union Bible Dictionary 1838 Second EditionVintage - Dr. Seuss Book- The Cat In The Hat Beginner Book Dictionary - 1964Langenscheidt's #24 Miniature Dictionary - Lilliput Spanish-english 701 Pages1839 Dictionary Of The Church Protestant Episcopal Church United States NrA Dictionary Of Dates In 3 Volumes - 1913Vintage The Little Webster Dictionary - 18,000 Words Mini Book Printed In Usa1945 Hardcover Webster's Dictionary