Mann's Pictorial Dictionary and Cyclopedia – The most miscellaneous miscellany out there

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Mann's Pictorial Dictionary and Cyclopedia Vol. 1

National Library Publications

1960, 240 pages, 8.5 x 11 inches

$20 and up (used) Buy a copy on Amazon

What are the different parts of a knife called? How about the parts of a plough? Does anyone know what kind of mousetrap this is? What do Eskimo ice scrapers look like? I've got this chrysalis here — what kind of butterfly or moth will emerge from it? Can anyone show me the difference between a bath tap and a double flexible tube cock? How about a White Persian versus a Manx? How did the piano evolve? What kind of ship is that sailing out of the harbor?

All of these questions and a ridiculously large number more are answered in Mann's Pictoral Dictionary and Cyclopedia, 240 pages of the most miscellaneous miscellany out there. Each page poses a not-entirely-naturally-worded question at the top, then answers it with illustrations. If we believe the foreword of this 1960 edition, the original book was found in a bombed-out library in England shortly after WWII. One illustration shows a woman's hairstyle from 1920, while another list, "To Which Country in the British Empire Does That Badge Belong?" includes Kenya and Gold Cost which, if I know my British history (note: I do not), suggests the book was published sometime between 1920-1957.

I'd owned this book for several years before I realized that the pages are not random, they're alphabetical (as long as you can figure out what category the page has been classified under, which is not always clear). This leads to delightful transitions like going from cat's cradle games, to cattle breeds, to oak chairs, or from "What Bible Fruit is That?" to "Examples of British Game Birds."

The British dial is set to 11. "What is the Name of That Sedge? The Chief Species Growing in Britain" is a two-page spread on grasses. "What is the Meaning of Those Badges Worn by the Boy Scouts?" asks another page. "Which British Owl is That?" — it turns out that "Ten owls are found wild in England, and by means of these drawings it will be possible to identify any owl that may be seen." Identify your raptors with confidence, Britain! It's out of print, but used copies can be found at the link above.

– Sara Lorimer

Note: The book reviewed here is Volume 1, but the link above has offers for both Volume 1 & 2, 240 pages each, starting at $20 for the set.