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Is Burning Old Dictionaries and Encyclopedias Sacreligious?

Reference Books of Yesteryear

Reference Books of Yesteryear

No 'Joy of Sex'?

You found out that posterity didn't care about old dictionaries and encyclopedias after Thanksgiving dinner, during that cozy family conversation.

You brought up the subject of who was going to get what after you shuffled off. After all, you had 3 generations of articles to dispose of, and it made sense to allocate them now and not have the family quarrelling after you’d snuffed it. You were surprised when your progeny told you that they didn’t want any of your old rubbish; this was the future and it didn’t care too much about the past.

They did take some paintings and ornaments, but you were left with every book; even The Joy of Sex was waved aside, which had you thinking that they were more informed than you’d ever been.

The next day you opened up the bookcase; the one with the bevelled glass doors, and contemplated all the dictionaries and encyclopaedias. How were you going to get rid of them? You could do a Ray Bradbury, but it would take a helluva big bonfire.

Dictionaries & Encyclopedias

You pulled out most of the heavies –

7 volumes of Peoples of All Nations.

6 volumes of Home Doctor.

9 volumes of Harmsworth’s Universal Encyclopaedia.

20 volumes of Children’s Britannica published 1970

8 volumes of Waverly Children’s Dictionary, no publication date

6 volumes of Harmsworth’s Household Encyclopedia. no publication date

10 volumesof The New Educational Library 1962

You noticed an oddity as you gazed at the books. The spelling of encyclopaedia. All of the encyclopaedias had been printed and published in Great Britain, but the titles were printed in the American spelling – encyclopedia. They must have been published with the American market in mind. Even now, your spell checker was letting you know that you didn’t know how to spell.

As you considered your options, you checked out some of the volumes and took a note of the following photographs.

Peoples of all Nations

Peoples of all Nations

Mongolia:  Elegant Lady of High Degree

Mongolia: Elegant Lady of High Degree

Peoples of All Nations

Published by The Amalgamated Press, London. No publication date shown, but all mention of 'the war' refers to the Great War of 1918.

Home Doctor

Home Doctor

A 'modern' refrigerator?

A 'modern' refrigerator?

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Harmsworth's Home Doctor

6 volumes published by The Amalgamated Press, London. No publication date given but it would appear to be in the late '20's or early '30's.

Universal Encyclopedia

Universal Encyclopedia

A Historical fold-out map of the Americas

A Historical fold-out map of the Americas

A 'modern' stove.

A 'modern' stove.

Harmsworth's Universal Encyclopedia

9 volumes published by The Amalgated Press London. Again, there is no publication date but you can judge in what era it was published by looking at the photographs.

And how about this for the most modern up-to-date airplane?

And how about this for the most modern up-to-date airplane?

Decision Time - Centigrade or Fahrenheit?

Finally, you decided to donate the books to charity and phoned up three charities to check whether they would collect them or if you had to deliver them. The answers were adamant; they didn’t accept books. You should have been prepared for that answer, as hardly anybody reads ‘real’ books anymore. They read electronic tablets, and converse via email, Skype or Twitter. Even the timeless art of chatting to your neighbour over the garden fence had been superseded by Facebook.

You then decided that you could sell the books on eBay, and checked the sold prices for all of the volumes. The only set that had sold and made any money was the ‘Waverly Children’s Dictionary’ which made $23. That seemed reasonable until you saw the price it took to mail them – it would be cheaper burning them.

You could always have a yard sale, but that sounded like too much trouble; you’d have to find enough tables to set them out on in the front lawn, and then you’d have to heft them out there on your own, apart from which, it was past the yard sale time of year. Apart from that, you’d have to put lots of other items out in order to entice people in, and you had no idea what your other items were worth.

Then the light bulb lit up. You could have a tag sale. Excited, you phone up 3 auction houses for quotes. There were no quotes. Tag sales included every item in the house and were normally held after the owners had died or moved into retirement homes – and you weren’t about to do either just to get rid of some books.

When you were on the phone to the auction houses, you asked about putting the books in an auction. Yes the auction houses would take the books and anything else you wanted to auction as a consignment. The terms were 25% off the ‘top’ price. ‘Top price’ meant that the auctioneers took 25% of the final selling price before taxes were added. As well as that percentage, the buyer was also charged 10% of the final price. As if that wasn’t enough, some auctioneers had online auctions at the same time as their live auctions, and the online buyers were charged 15% of the final price.

That, if my arithmetic is correct, means a profit of either 35 or 40% - for the auctioneer!!! Does the seller make any profit?

Where did you put the thermometer and those matches? The only answer was the Canadian equivalent of Fahrenheit 451.......Centigrade 232.778.


We gave lots of the books away, but finally decided to auction the rest. A friendly auctioneer suggested we wait until he had the right sort of auction before consigning the books to auction. The right sort of auction is in 3 days. He is auctioning items and books from two affluent families with a literary bent. This way we hope that the people who attend the auction will be there for the specific purpose of searching for valued books. I'll let you know how little they make.

Books with a future

The books sold for $52.00, which was more than anticipated. The great thing about the auction was the fact that the books were bought by booklovers. They weren't destined for the fire pit. As for the bookcase; a friend with a 19th century home took it. He was horrified at the thought of it going for auction, as it was exactly what he was searching for.

It is good to know that the books and bookcase are sure of a future.


John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on December 10, 2019:

Congratulations Steve.

All we have these days are tablets, laptops and cellphones. I get mocked for having a daily paper delivered using old fashioned paper - I prefer to solve the crossword using pen & paper.

Thanks for the comment.

Steve on December 10, 2018:

I love Encyclopedias and Dictionaries.

I am the proud owner of The Century Dictionary (1914), a lexicon which contains over 7,000 pages.

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on November 24, 2012:

kartika: I will definitely let you know if they end up on eBay or any other online auction house. Thank you again for the visit and comment kartika.

kartika damon from Fairfield, Iowa on November 24, 2012:

I'm happy to hear they may still have value for someone somewhere. :) and let me know if they do make it to auction on eBay!

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on November 24, 2012:

DayLeeWriter: 'I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word....' Emily Dickinson.

I think you and Emily are in agreement, DayLee. Words are magical and almost certainly fireproof.

Many thanks for the comment.

Debra Cornelius from Georgia on November 24, 2012:

I do believe some printed words are indeed 'magical', perhaps they ARE 'fireproof'... ;)

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on November 23, 2012:

kartika damon; I appreciate your visit and comment, kartika. After reading Mr. Happy's comment and logging on to the website he suggested, I'm seriously considering doing just that. It would be good to know that the volumes at least went to people who appreciated them. If I put them on eBay I'll let you know when. Apart from that I'm having trouble getting a flame within a yard of a page - perhaps they're all fireproof!

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on November 23, 2012:

drbj: I hadn't considered that point of view, drbj. It sends shivers up my spine to think of curling up with a good Kindle, and perhaps a Red Bull. I think we were born at the ideal time. Thanks for the visit and comment young lady; it is appreciated.

kartika damon from Fairfield, Iowa on November 23, 2012:

Fun to read - how about finding artist who collage and do mixed media? Or those who love making altered books - put em on eBay - I think you may have some takers - I would even consider taking a few... :)

drbj and sherry from south Florida on November 23, 2012:

Gen Xs and Millenials and the rest of those youngsters do not know what it is like to appreciate curling up with a good book, John. One day they may realize the pleasure that was lost by reading only iPads and Nooks and Kindles.

I own tons of books and would never destroy them.

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on November 23, 2012:

DayLeeWriter: A lady after my own heart. We have books on every horizontal surface and shelves of books on every vertical surface. As much as I like reading my Kindle (great on transatlantic flights) I still prefer books. To me, a stormy night and a cozy chair with a glass of Malt and a real book are the epitomes of pleasure. Thanks for visiting and commenting, DayLeeWriter, it means a lot.

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on November 23, 2012:

mckbirdbks: Sorry for the long delay in answering your comment Mike, but I had to delete the previous Hub as it didn't meet Hubpages standards.

Thanks for the visit and the comment. I was dumbfounded to hear that people glue book covers together for decorative purposes - that's something there should be a law against.

We were at a Tag Sale last week and almost everything was sold except the books. I would have bought them all but there is no room at the inn. Perhaps when we donate these books there will be enough space for me to accidentally collect some more orphan volumes.

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on November 23, 2012:

Mr. Happy: Many thanks for the visit and comment Mr. Happy. Your comment is interesting inasmuch as I hadn't a clue that these old dictionaries and encyclopedias were wanted by anyone.

I checked up on your web site and was amazed at the prices being asked. I still haven't figured out if the books sold for those prices, but I'll check it out further.

So that's why we have so many books and candles in this house - in case of another ice storm. That makes sense.

As I said to phdast7, the books will not be burned, EVER. Honestly I don't think I'm capable of setting fire to a book.

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on November 23, 2012:

phdast7: Great, phdast, thanks for the visit. I know what you mean about books being needed all over the world, and I know how you feel about letting go of a book. I'm going to ask our church if they want the dictionaries, as it donates money and implements to Africa, perhaps it will want the books. Whatever happens they won't be burned.

Mckbirdbks, in his comment mentioned the fact that some interior designers sell books by the foot - not to be read, but to take up space - criminal.

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on November 23, 2012:

stclairjack: Thanks for taking the time and trouble to read and comment, stclairjack. I absolutely love your comment. It is a novel in itself, magical. I sat here for ages imagining the phone call and laughing my head off. Thanks again.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on November 22, 2012:

One of the texts from your collection of "People of all nations", is going for twenty five pounds - here is the link: Please do not burn books ...

If a text falls under the category of "scholarly works", I am always interested. And no worry, people will go back to books after the first massive electric storm: books and candles that is (lol).

Thank You for a fun read.


Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on November 22, 2012:

What a terrific article!! I am a book lover and a historian. It is very hard for me to let go of books and often it is very hard to donate them. However, there are schools and Universities in third world countries who want books in English, all kinds of books.

I work at a small liberal arts college in the south and a colleague recently collected about 700 books from all the faculty which will be sent to a university in Africa. Wish I knew the specifics and wish I knew how to tell you how to find these programs. In much of the developing world, English is the second language and books are needed. Perhaps you can locate some of these programs. Excellent essay. Sharing.

Stclairjack from middle of freekin nowhere,... the sticks on November 22, 2012:

i know exactly how you feel..... i've considdered gluing them shut and making secret stash boxes out of them all..... selling them on ebay as secret safe boxes.... and based on the idea that no one ever opens a book.... prety much thief proof. (i know this because i used to hide a spare 100$ in my bible, on the book rail... plain sight. hubby #2 never found it..... till i was out of town and he was out of money.. walked him step by step through the house, then to book and chapter.. all over the phone)

loved this,... well done... voted up!

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