November 2012 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Rare Dictionaries May Reach $1 Million in NYC Next Week

On December 4, an incredible collection of rare dictionaries, valued at close to $1 million, goes on the block at Bonhams in New York City. The two hundred lots of lexicography comprised the collection of Thomas Malin Rodgers, Jr., who passed away earlier this year. From sixteenth-century B.C. cuneiform tablet (estimated at $1,500-2,500) to James Caulfield's Blackguardiana: or, A Dictionary of Rogues, Bawds, Pimps, Whores, Pickpockets, Shoplifters..., circa 1793 (est. at  $3,000-5,000), this collection is extensive and impressive. The great printers of history--Aldus Manutius, Anton Koberger, Robert Estienne--are all represented. Here are some more highlights:

Papias 1006.jpgPerhaps one of the most striking items in the sale is this late thirteenth-century Italian manuscript of Papias the Grammarian's dictionary, the only Papias manuscript on the market since 1903 (est. $25,000-$35,000). Papias is credited with creating the first modern dictionary, seven hundred years before Samuel Johnson.

Roget 1150.jpgAnother incredible (fascinating, unbelievable, or extraordinary...) lot is an autograph manuscript titled "Arrangement of Knowledge" by Peter Mark Roget of Thesaurus fame (est. $6,000-8,000). Dating from 1799-1803, Bonhams states that the 48-page manuscript "appears to be unpublished."

Webster 1172.jpgOf course, what would an auction of dictionaries be without Webster? On offer is an autograph manuscript in Webster's hand for the first edition of his American Dictionary, published in 1828 (est. $8,000-10,000). The page features definitions for twelve B words. A printed first edition is also available in the auction, estimated at $7,000-10,000.

And, if you are as perturbed by the recent Oxford English Dictionary scandal as many in the literary world, give a thought to the first edition issued in 132 parts from 1884 to 1933 (estimate $2,500-3,500).

Images courtesy of Bonhams.