<<< Continued from previous page

To put this more specifically: I knew some things about this dictionary that many other booksellers didn't, and I was profiting exclusively on this knowledge. To many, a dirt common dictionary that was originally published in 1909, published subsequently and often with occasional revision and as often in different bindings, and was supplanted in 1961 by Webster's Third New International Dictionary would likely have about as much value as an obsolete, tired set of mid-century encyclopedias - i.e., next to no value. But the truth was, as long as condition wasn't an issue, it had value in just about any of its many manifestations.

For those of you who don't know what's going on, here are two excerpts from my eBay listing template:

1. "At over 600,000 entries, this was and remains today the largest unabridged dictionary of the English language ever published, significantly larger than its ca. 1961 replacement, Webster's Third. This edition includes a huge array of obsolescent, obsolete or painfully obscure words that were omitted in later editions, a few that had only a single citation in print. In addition to its historical value, it's prized by those with an interest in maintaining the purity of language: It was the last and best prescriptive dictionary - and a valuable resource for home schooling as well.

2. "Vintage dictionaries are sometimes viewed as noble guardians of language as it should be spoken and written - indeed, how it was before it became "corrupted" by slang, sloppy usage, and so on. I'm old enough to recall the storm of protest that broke out when Merriam Webster published its Third New International Dictionary in 1961. Editor Philip Gove believed that a dictionary's function is to record language as it stands at any moment in time, not to serve as an instrument for dictating how it should be. The result was a production that radically departed from Webster's Second, for decades the standard bearer of correct American English, simply because us chickens weren't speaking/writing that language anymore.

"This is one important reason why vintage dictionaries retain their value as well as they do, also why Fowler's Modern English Usage is reprinted ad infinitum. They record what is commonly perceived to be a purer form of English, and having, say, Webster's Second on one's desk - and using it daily - is to some a noble, though perhaps quixotic, defense against creeping permissiveness.

"But there's another, more subtle reason why "obsolete" dictionaries retain value, and this is often overlooked if not altogether misunderstood. If language becomes corrupted over time, some would point out that this is an indication or marker that society itself has become corrupted. Decadent societies, to continue the argument, are increasingly composed of those who have abandoned the principles that made them great, and, once abandoned, exhibit a weakened capacity to so much as understand these principles, let alone live by them. Language tags merrily along with this, accurately betrays what's happening, and over time - this is where things get sinister - dictionaries like Webster's Third subtly reinforce the march to ruin."

[Originally excerpted from a BookThink article.]

There you have it - why it wasn't a sourcing issue that was preventing other booksellers from obtaining and profiting from this book. For the most part, I was using sources available to all booksellers, though of course I did - and still do - grab it locally. (By the way, I don't often buy it online anymore because opportunities for purchasing it at the right price have diminished significantly - and no doubt this is partly my fault for selling this information in a previous Gold Edition!)

A few more examples next time.

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