From our friends at Shorpy.com comes this fascinating image of a young woman working in the big city in 1956. Notice the book under her manuscript and the hand-held magnifier next to it.

NYC Career Girl, 1956I suspect the book in the photo above is a variant of the Compact Oxford English dictionary. The one I have is from the 1970s and the pages are set up a little differently. The magnifier that came with my COED is the same as in the Shorpy.com photo.

Because the full OED is 20 volumes, the compact editions are composed of multiple pages reduced so that several pages fit onto a single page, if you follow me. That makes the looking glass essential to reading the entries. Even with the pages crammed in so tiny, my COED is still a bulky two volumes.

OED

Here’s a photo from the Web showing a modern-day COED. The looking glass or magnifier provided with the books nowadays seems to be a nifty round one with no handle.

Compact OED

An amazing resource for us word nerds.

My favorite dictionary for just reading—and you know you’ve got it bad when you collect and, yes, read old dictionaries—is my hardback facsimile of Noah Webster’s first American dictionary, as published in 1828. It’s fun to see how our language has changed since Webster’s day.

American Dictionary of the English Language