Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language 1755-1756 folio edition - For Sale

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language 1755-1756 folio edition
Price: $7779.00
Note: This item has been valued at $25,000.00.

Samuel Johnson – Author of A Dictionary of the English Language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 – 13 December 1784), often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. Johnson was a devout Anglican and committed Tory, and has been described as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history". He is also the subject of "the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature": James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson.

Johnson was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, and attended Pembroke College, Oxford for just over a year, before his lack of funds forced him to leave. After working as a teacher he moved to London, where he began to write miscellaneous pieces for The Gentleman's Magazine. His early works include the biography The Life of Richard Savage, the poems "London" and "The Vanity of Human Wishes", and the play Irene.

After nine years of work, Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755; it had a far-reaching effect on Modern English and has been described as "one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship." This work brought Johnson popularity and success.

A Dictionary of the English Language

In 1746, a group of publishers approached Johnson about creating an authoritative dictionary of the English language; a contract with William Strahan and associates, worth 1,500 guineas, was signed on the morning of 18 June 1746. Johnson claimed that he could finish the project in three years. In comparison, the Académie Française had forty scholars spending forty years to complete its dictionary, which prompted Johnson to claim, "This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman". Although he did not succeed in completing the work in three years, he did manage to finish it in nine, justifying his boast. According to Bate, the Dictionary "easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever performed by one individual who laboured under anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time".

Johnson's dictionary was not the first, nor was it unique. It was, however, the most commonly used and imitated for the 150 years between its first publication and the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928.


Although this is not the first edition of the Johnson Dictionary it is however rare and quite valuable. Read the email I received below of an inquiry concerning the dictionary:

Dear Sir,

Many thanks for your email about the 2nd edition of Johnson's Dictionary. At the museum we do not give information about valuations but we can give you historical information about your item which I hope will be useful. As far as I can see from the photographs it looks like a well restored copy in good condition. I would recommend initially contacting a book dealer or auction house local to you for a valuation of your item.

Please find some information about the Dictionary for your personal use only below - from the photographs, yours is a folio edition. There were two main runs of the Dictionary published during Johnson's lifetime - the main, folio sized edition and a smaller abridged edition. The first edition of Johnson's Dictionary appeared in 1755, in a run of 2000 in the first edition.

The second edition is very interesting: 2nd edition, 1755-1756. The Second edition was published in instalments. 165 weekly instalments from 14 June 1755. Each number was either 3 or 4 sheets in size. The instalments cost 6d making a total of £4 2s 6d. Demand fell off as the work proceeded - 2,300 copies of the early numbers was reduced to 768 copies of L-Z (volume 2), making this the smallest and therefore scarcest of the folio size volumes in its complete 2 volume format. A further two edition of the folio size appeared in Johnson's own lifetime, the 4th edition including his amendments.

I hope this is useful, but please do not hesitate to contact me again if you would like any further information about the Dictionary 2nd edition.

Best wishes,

Joanne Wilson
Museums and Heritage Officer, Lichfield City Council

The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum
Breadmarket Street
WS13 6LG


For a book over 250 years old it is in extremely good condition. Both volumes have been rebacked in dark leather covered boards with seven raised bands on the spine and gilt stamped lettering on spine as well as repeated blind stamped decoration.

If you have any questions please ask.

Thank You.

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