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 But when it comes to a vintage or antique dictionary, the older and more out-of-date a publication is the better.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

1596: Folio Abraham Ortelius's Geographical Dictionary - Vellum - Rare1683: Roman Contract Law Dictionary In Vellum1798 Botanical Dictionary Of Bulliard / Mycology Mushrooms Botany Linnaeus +Antique Rare Miniature Bryce's English Dictionary In Magnifying Glass Tin 1890'sC1900 5 Vol Set Illustrated Dictionary Of Gardening 3149 Illustrations Nicholson4 Vol. Leather Set Webster Dictionary Easton PressBryces Smallest English Dictionary Miniature Book & Victorian Magnifying Glass Oxford Dictionary Of American Legal Quotations Leather Book Easton Press1854 The Ladies' Flora Dictionary & Glossary Of Botanical Names Book By NewmanUniversal Dictionary Of Violin And Bow Makers Henley & WoodcockBlack's Law Dictionary Third Edition 1933 Vintage Book An American Dictionary By Noah Webster 1848 First Merriam Webster EditionBeautiful Old Vintage 1919 Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary Hardcover Langenscheidt Lilliput Miniature French-english Dictionary Euc1957 Tryon Edwards The New Dictionary Of Thoughts: Cyclopedia Of QuotationsBlack's Law Dictionary Revised Fourth Edition 1968 4th Hardcover West PublishingOxford Universal English Dictionary Full Vintage Set 10 Volumes - 1937-doubledayWebster’s New International Dictionary Second Edition Antique Salva-webster Dictionary English-spanish Spanish-english 1899Metaphysical Bible Dictionary Hc 1931 Autographed Charles Fillmore Unity ChurchEnglish-mongolian Dictionary (1993)Antique Tiny Book Little Webster Dictionary, Leather Bound, Miniature1939 Webster's Twentieth Century Dictionary UnabridgedBlack's Law DictionaryHering's Dictionary Of Classical And Modern CookeryNeuman & Baretti's Dictionary Of The Spanish & English Languages (boston, 1827)Ww2 Soldiers English Italy Dictionary 1944Antique 1914 "webster's Shorter School Dictionary" By The American Book Company