Have you heard of a “kilostere”? How about a “glaciarium”? Or a “cassidix”? Ever seen one? Or all three? No? Then read on! (And click the thumbnails below for full-sized images.)
A few years back a kind woman called the N-YHS reference desk to donate a dictionary to the library. Our collection focuses on New York and American history, so, normally, we’d decline a plain old dictionary as something better suited to a general library. But this was no ordinary dictionary. It had a mouthful of a title, for one thing–The Picture Dictionary: The world’s largest collection of pictures alphabetically arranged. This work contains 110,000 illustrations of people, places, and things (Brooklyn, N.Y. : National Library Publications, Inc., 1952). And it seemed on the rare side: a check of WorldCat showed only a handful of American libraries with copies. Intrigued, we decided to accept it.
The Picture Dictionary runs to 3,008 pages split between two chunky volumes, each weighing seven and a half pounds. (Bless that donor for lugging them in!) The mysterious “National Library Publications” of Brooklyn pops up in newspaper advertisements for other titles they produced between the 1950s and 1990s, but is otherwise poorly documented. Where did they find such a massive collection of images? How did they reproduce them? And what did the Picture Dictionary cost when new? Was it meant for students? (Was it a student who took scissors to the first page of the Bs for a school project?)
True to its subtitle, the work really does contain thousands of pictures, one or more for each word in the dictionary. If you visit our library and request this book, expect to lose a few hours. Look up any person, place, thing, or concept. Or open to any page and let your eye wander. You’re bound to discover something you’ve never heard of, with a handy picture of it right there. (If you’ve been looking at the images in this post, you know by now that a “kilostere” is a unit of measure; a “glaciarium” is a fancy word for an ice skating rink; and a “cassidix” is a bird.) It’s like the Google Image Search of 1952! Be warned: just like today, you’ll go off on tangents, like when you start out on YouTube watching a puppy video and somehow end up on the dark side of the webiverse.
The images here are just twenty-six of the Picture Dictionary’s 110,000. (If each picture is worth a thousand words, does that mean the Picture Dictionary has 110 million?) It would be fun to make multiple passes through the alphabet, collecting pictures of birds, for instance, for each letter. Or pieces of furniture, perhaps. Or musical instruments. Did we mention this book is a dangerous time swallower? Best put it back on the shelf!
This post is by Joseph Ditta, Reference Archivist.