I am the lucky owner of one of the plates used to print the original 1928 version of the Oxford English Dictionary, a trophy of the years 1987-89 when I worked full-time on a sideshow of a sideshow of the production of the OED Second Edition; this fragment’s title is the range of words that were on that page. Herewith a brief visual essay on the plate, which surprisingly includes a curvy fashion shoot.
The OED was originally published as a periodical, and while I don’t have access to the source data that would reveal exactly which year this plate was first put to use, a bit of poking around suggests that it would be surprising if it dated from before 1897 or after 1906.
It’s actually quite difficult to photograph a roughly 8½-by-11-inch dark copper plate, and both cameras pretty well struck out; but then Lauren’s flatbed scanner worked like a champ; well, once I’d used PhotoShop to flip it (printing plates are mirror images of course) and brighten it a bit. Mind you, at 800dpi, the .bmp file was 147M in size. Here’s a detail, showing a complete entry, which could be used as the basis for a lecture on the lexicographic principles behind the dictionary, but weirdly enough, some people find this boring, and anyhow the story’s been told a few times.
I will note that the adjective lustrous, like many English words, has its first recorded use in the work of Shakespeare.
Fashion Shoot · The reason I scanned the plate is that I have this old friend (as in for thirty years or so) named Glen McMillan, proprietor of the drop-dead-cool Main Street boutique “Life of Riley”, which is a few blocks from our house and from whom I rent an office above the store.
He had the idea of using the OED plate to decorate a T-shirt, which struck me as worth a try. Today I got a call in the office, Glen saying “Come downstairs for a second with your camera, Tanya’s modeling a prototype of the shirt.”
I asked Ms King if I could publish her picture and she wrote “Tell them I graduated from UCFV in Abbotsford from the Fashion Design program 1½ years ago and have been working freelance on my designs (the label is Aphrodite), working with a range of clientele as well as working in conjunction with Life Of Riley with my designs and adapting others. I also have experience in modeling; I had done a lot in high school and carried through to college doing freelance.” I think we can agree that she’s currently the world’s leading lexicographically-themed apparel model.
The picture is with the little Canon S70, the flash on and all the default settings, just point and shoot; the capabilities of pocket cameras are verging on frightening. It and the plate detail are probably both worth a click to enlarge.