sea and sieve

a dusty aesthetic | seventies children’s dictionary

Oxford Children's Dictionary in Colour (c) Oxford University Press

This is a copy of the Oxford Children’s Dictionary in Colour from the seventies, as I’m sure you could tell. I found it on a dusty shelf at work when we moved offices – fancifully, I feel like it must have been happy to be opened again after so many years. The illustrations are quite lovely, they have an honesty and naivety which is more unusual in modern reference books.

pirate (c) Oxford University Press owl (c) Oxford University Press

There are three reasons I wanted to share this forty-year-old book. Firstly, to mark the end of my time working in the Children’s Dictionaries department. I am moving to work more broadly across the children’s list and I am scared and excited to start my first permanent job.

queue (c) Oxford University Press mermaid (c) Oxford University Press

Secondly, I wanted to talk about dictionaries themselves. I may be biased, as I’ve spent a year working on various dictionaries for children, but I believe they are beautiful in a way that is often overlooked. In their precision and their balance, in the brief crystallization of meaning, and in the essentially elegant presentation of so much information, they are beautiful.

They also capture a moment of time – not only in the stylish dresses of the ladies in the shop queue and the mermaid unencumbered by shell bra, but also in the language which they record, in increasingly agile ways.

ships (c) Oxford University Press

And thirdly, because this dictionary sums up what I hope this blog is turning out to be about (when it’s not about me) – which is beautiful things from another time, which we can blow the dust off and admire anew.

horse (c) Oxford University Press


This entry was published on 10 September 2014 at 8:55 pm. It’s filed under books, secondhand and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “a dusty aesthetic | seventies children’s dictionary

  1. This is wonderful. When I worked at the local library, they used to give me lots of books that they would have thrown away otherwise. I think I have the companion book to your 70s dictionary – a 90s text book for children, all about the 70s. I shall have to show you at some point – it is magnificent.

    I also love what you said about dictionaries as beautiful figurative objects. 🙂

    Owl Girl | A London lifestyle blog

  2. I heartily agree with your thoughts about the singular beauty of children’s dictionaries. Both in words, and their illustrations. I wonder, do you happen to know where I might be able to buy children’s dictionaries from the 40s, 50s, 60s? Not becessarily ones with pictures? Forgive my ignorance on the subject!

    • Ooh I don’t know, is often good for secondhand books if you’re in the UK and know what title you’re after. Looks like there are a few on eBay under searches like ‘vintage children’s dictionary’. Good luck!


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