Here (on the Topic Pages of this page) I will post selected items, usually only portions of an entry, from my collection of rare encyclopedias and reference books, some of which date back to 1860. I will add new entries on a regular basis, so keep checking back for more.
If you want me to look up and post a specific topic from a specific encyclopedia or date range, feel free to send me a request in the Comments sections below and I will post them on the appropriate Topic Page which you can link to below:
For contemporary encyclopedic knowledge you can always head over to Encyclopædia Britannica or The Canadian Encyclopedia (hint: the Canadian Encyclopedia is free) but this page is about exploring the knowledge of the recent past, warts and all. Do not always expect accuracy in the entries themselves (which is not to deny their “truth” or value or even, shall we say, occasional accuracy), but innaccuracy is often the least of their offense: what we call sexism, racism, homophobia and just a general colonial Western superiority complex pervades much of the popular knowledge of the late 19th and early to mid 20th century. I suggest, however, you resist the urge to judge too much from a position of 21st century self-righteousness, for how much has really changed? How much of our contemporary knowledge is inaccurate, dogmatic, prejudiced and offensive in ways we can and cannot even recognize?
Note: The aim is to transcribe as closely as possible the text as it appears in the source while maintaining readibility in an internet format: some discrepancies involving formatting and accents are likely.
Choose a Topic Page form the options above and encounter entries like,
Christ’s-thorn (krīsts’thôrn), n
The Paliurus aeuleatus, a deciduous shrub, a native of Palestine and the south of Europe: so named from a belief that the crown of thorns placed upon the head of Christ was made of it.
–From The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia: A Work of Universal Reference in all Departments of Knowledge with a New Atlas of the World. Volume II CELT-DROOL. New York: The Century Co., 1900. pg. 986.
Maple Sugar. In the Old Days of “Sugaring Off”: A Tale of the Gay Times That Peoples used to Have When the Sap Was Running in the Sugar Maples.
Are you ever tempted to wonder how people had any fun a hundred years ago, when there were no radios, no automobiles, no baseball, and no “movies”? If sometime you should find yourself in that self-satisfied frame of mind, in which everything outside your own time and country seems very dull and tiresome, just stop a moment and remember the old-time “sugaring off.”
–From Richards Topical Encyclopedia Vol 9: Basic Industries. New York: J.A. Richards Publishing Co., Inc, 1949. pg 122.
–From Chambers’s Encyclopedia: A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge for the People Vol. VII, NUM to PUE. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company. 1875. pg 820.
Why is the nose placed over and near the mouth?
Because, as one of the chief duties of that organ is to exercise a watchfulness over the purity of the substances we eat and drink, it is placed in that position which enables it to discharge that duty with the greatest readiness.
–From The Reason Why: A Careful Collection of Many Hundreds of Reasons for Things Which, Though Generally Believed, are Imperfectly Understood. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, Publishers, 1860. pg 241.
And don’t be surprised if you see the same entry on more than one page. Categories are just categories, labels are just labels, and words are just words.
(Remember: If you want me to look up and post a specific subject from a specific encyclopedia or date range, feel free to send me a request in the Comments sections below.)