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    Description

    "The Most Amazing, Enduring and Endearing One-Man Feat in the Field of Lexicography"

    Samuel Johnson. A Dictionary of the English Language: In Which The Words are deduced from their Originals, and Illustrated in their Different Significations by Examples from the best Writers. To which are Prefixed A History of the Language, and An English Grammar. London: Printed by W. Strahan, 1755.

    First edition. Two large folio volumes (16 x 10 inches; 405 x 254 mm.). Unpaginated; collates complete. Text in double columns. Title pages printed in red and black. Decorative woodcut tail-pieces.

    Contemporary diced calf, rebacked to style at an early date. Thick single-fillet borders rolled in gilt, spines ruled in gilt and stamped in blind in compartments, six raised bands, gilt burgundy and black morocco lettering pieces, gilt board edges and turn-ins. Some light abrasions to boards. Light wear to board extremities, with a few bits of loss especially at corners, just exposing pasteboards. Light dampstains to top edge and lower gutter margin. Lower hinge of volume I just starting, but board still holding tight. A few pages lightly foxed or spotted, primarily to margins. Paper repairs to outer margin of [A]1 and lower margin of 31C1. Four-inch tear to bottom of 30P2, affecting eleven lines of text, but without any loss; and a one-inch tear to the middle of leaf 30Q2, affecting seven lines. Overall a handsome, fine copy.

    "Begun in 1747, and printed over five years, Johnson's Dictionary at once put to shame every other dictionary that had ever been written and set the standard for every dictionary that has been written since. Its genius was at once acknowledged by every hand, and the first edition of two thousand copies was instantly sold out ... Perhaps the greatest innovation in Johnson's work was his consistent reliance not on earlier word-lists and dictionaries, not on his own intuition, but on English literature itself -- the vast, wonderful treasury of words that, well chosen and properly sorted and accurately quoted, became in itself almost a dictionary of the language. Indeed, after Johnson showed the way by quoting from English literature at every turn, it was even suggested that a great dictionary might be written without definitions at all -- if the quotations were plentiful enough and well enough chosen and edited. This insistence on real examples from the real language as it has been really used has informed every serious dictionary every since -- from Richardson and Webster to the new OED" (The Collection of The Garden Ltd., Sotheby's New York, November 9 and 10, 1989, lot 148).

    Courtney and Nichol Smith, pp. 54-55. Grolier, 100 English, 50. Printing and the Mind of Man 201. Rothschild 1237.


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    Auction Dates
    March, 2009
    6th-7th Friday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
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