Rare 1763 Scots dictionary in £950 eBay sale

A RARE first edition “Edinburgh dictionary”, which was marketed at the time of its publication in 1763 as the “first work of the kind that has been attempted in Scotland”, has gone up for sale on eBay after being discovered in a box of books sold in bulk at auction.

The dictionary open at the end of its section on Scotticisms. Picture: Contributed

The work, which was created by renowned Scottish bookseller and printer Alexander Donaldson and was sold at his shops in Edinburgh and London as well as other book stores in Dumfries and Lanark, includes a preface of “Scotticisms”, which translates colloquial “Scotch” words and usages into what it calls the “proper English”, for the benefit of readers south of the Border.

Donaldson, who published the book with colleague John Reid, was also the co-founder of the Edinburgh Advertiser – a twice-weekly newspaper which was published for around 100 years in the 19th century. His family fortune was later used to found Donaldson’s Hospital, Scotland’s national school for the deaf, which was based in a William Playfair-designed building at West Coates in Edinburgh and has since relocated to ­Linlithgow.

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The dictionary is believed to be one of only three in the UK – with the other kept in the British Library in London and a third in a private collection. Four other copies exist in the US – at Columbia University, Indiana State University, Trinity College and Yale University. There is also one copy at the National Library of Scotland, which has a different imprint.



Rare book merchant Dean Byass, of Byass Rare Books in Bristol, came across the volume, which has a price tag of £950, at an auction in England, where he spotted it in a box of books.

“It is a curious thing. It was with a whole lot of other books and I saw it and realised it was special,” he said.”

He added: “I originally bought it with a customer in mind who is a lexicographer and collects dictionaries, but, strangely, it turned out he was the only other person in the UK to already have a copy, so I’m now selling it.”

The “Scotticisms” section at the beginning explains the meaning of words it claims are “Scotch”, such as “to be difficulted”, which it translates into English as “puzzled” and the Scottish “butter and bread” as “bread and butter”.

“They’re hardly very difficult words – I’m not really sure why they felt the need to do that,” said Byass.

The front inside page of the book, published less than ten years after Samuel Johnson’s definitive English dictionary, explains what the content is for: “The terms made use of in arts and sciences are defined; The words explained in their various sences [sic]; The accents properly placed, to facilitate the true pronounciation; The parts of speech denoted; and, The spelling throughout reduced to an uniform and consistent standard.”