Vintage dictionaries attract the attention of linguists, book collectors, and anyone with an interest in language. Building a collection of old dictionaries involves first deciding on the focus of the collection. Vintage dictionary hunters then need to learn to research the old dictionary editions they come across and evaluate condition, rarity, and appeal.
Types of Vintage Dictionaries
Since many kinds of dictionaries are produced, consider focusing a collection on a certain type. General dictionaries give the definitions of all the words commonly used in a language, while specialised dictionaries define only words used in a special field, like gastronomy or politics. Bilingual dictionaries, such as a English to French dictionary provides words in two languages. Illustrated dictionaries, often a type of children's dictionary, contain pictures. Reverse dictionaries, like a rhyming dictionary used by poets and songwriters, list words by their endings.
Basic Vintage Dictionary Information
The back of the title page gives buyers many important facts about an old book, including the copyright date, publishing date, and edition. These facts are the first clues to the book's history and value. Sometimes, the back of the title page shows several publishing dates for different editions. This is useful information for collectors because it gives the edition of the book as well as the years of previous editions. For collecting purposes, first editions are often more valuable and noteworthy than subsequent printings.
Vintage Dictionary Condition
The condition of a vintage book may range from poor to "as new". Vintage dictionaries usually fall in the middle of the scale. A book in fair condition has all of the text pages but may be missing some end pages, and the binding or cover may show significant wear. Good condition means the book has all the pages but shows wear and tear. Very good condition is one step better and requires the book to have all pages and only small signs of wear with no tears. Check for damage from moisture, insects, and sunlight, including bowed covers, stains, fading, and holes.
Vintage Dictionary Rarity and Appeal
Besides the condition, the value of a vintage dictionary depends on its rarity and appeal. Rarity is fairly objective and refers to how many copies of the book are in circulation. Researching the vintage dictionary to find out how many copies are available is part of the fun of vintage collecting for many people. Appeal is more subjective and depends on the collector's personal likes and dislikes. For example, a dictionary of gastronomy terms from the 1950s may be worth more to a chef than to someone who has no interest in food preparation.