Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pictorial Webster's: A Visual Dictionary of Curiosities

I was at one of my favorite local comic book shops, Desert Island on Metropolitan and Union yesterday--('s not just a comic book shop, they have lots of fabulous books) where I stumbled across this beautiful Pictorial Webster's Dictionary. I debated with myself for about half a second because there is already a copy of it in my house, but it isn't MY copy. So-- naturally, I bought it.
This might be the best book I own. okay, one of the top 5, easily. (oh, and it's $35)

The process and idea behind making this book is really special. Especially if you are like me and are obsessed with things that are really, really, really old.

"The Pictorial Webster's is, in simplest terms, an artistic visual reference of what was important to 19th Century America.The 400 plus page volume is printed with the original wood engravings and copper electrotypes of the Merriam-Webster dictionaries of the 19th Century; namely the 1859 American Dictionary of the English Language (the 1st illustrated dictionary in America), the 1864 edition of that same Dictionary, and the 1890 International Dictionary. The Engravings are arranged alphabetically, a system of organization long shunned by lexicographers because alphabetical order grants no intrinsic meaning to any given grouping of words, but it is perfect for a book that creates its own immersive experience in imagery of a time gone by. For more on this check out the process of making this book.

The book is also a meticulously printed study of the art of 19th Century scientific and black-line wood engravings. To an engraving, the printing in this book is of better quality than the printing in the original dictionaries. Details are revealed that were lost in the original printings as this book is printed for the engravings rather than for the text, on better quality paper, with a more sophisticated press, and it is being printed with the engravings or electrotypes as opposed to stereotyped plates which would have been used for the edition printing of the dictionaries."