Golden Book Encyclopedia

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In the living room of our small apartment, we had a piece of furniture, a dark wooden and glass cabinet that my parents correctly called the “credenza.”  My mother still has it. Books and chachkas (Yiddish for knickknacks) were stored inside.  To me the most valuable objects in the credenza were a set of Golden Book Encyclopedias.

This was a set of children’s encyclopedias published in the late 1950s when I was around seven years old.  There were 16 volumes and they were issued one volume a week at the Acme supermarket, to which we had to make a special trip, since the closest supermarket was Grand Union.

I really loved these encyclopedias.  For a seven year old, they seemed to explain everything in the world in beautifully illustrated, colorful pictures.  I did reports for school based on these wonderful entries, attempting to reproduce the illustrations by hand.  I especially loved studying the colorful state maps with all the various product symbols.

I found these images of the encyclopedia on the internet and I remember them vividly.  Each cover was decorated with an incredibly beautiful still-life of the objects included within.  Depicted on the cover of this second volume, “Arthur to Blood”, are drawings of astronomy, atom, bamboo, berry, bee, bark, birthstones, Beethoven, banana, beetle, birds and bee. 

It’s interesting to study the image comparing the modern world to the world millions of years ago.  The inhabitants of the modern continents are racial stereotypes and would never be permitted in a book today.  The one figure I can’t figure out is the guy lying on his back in Saudi Arabia.  To fit in with the other stereotypes, he should be wearing a robe and turban.  Also notice that all the figures are men, as if the term “mankind” were taken literally. The world millions of years ago has a mythical sea serpent depicted, which might not be scientifically accurate, but at least there is no nod to Biblical accounts of the past, as creationists would have it.

Of course, these encyclopedias were flawed, simplistic, colored by the values of the time period, but for a seven year old, they opened up all the wonders of the world.

 

 

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3 Responses to “Golden Book Encyclopedia”

  1. Dave Says:

    We had the world book encyclopedia. Most expensive set of books in the house. Every year a “special” additional book, lots of color pictures would arrive.

    My favorite part was this series of translucent pages that showed the human body, each system at a time, layered over each other.

    In other words, when all eight pages were looked at, you could see all the systems of the body, but you could also see one system, say the blood vessels etc. at a time.

    This was the poor man’s Britannica.

    We also had two hardcover collections: The Complete Works of Mark Twain: white covers with a black inset profile of Twain smoking a cigar; and all of Charles Dickens, with a black embossed cover. With these two collections, you could read good stories forever.

    My dad wanted to get rid of them one day, to make room for some of his professional journals; but I cried and carried on, and eventually they made space for them in my little room. I read all of Twain by the time I was out of 6th grade and most of the good Dickens ones as well.

    That may have been the cause of my always wanting to read every book of an author that I liked, that goes on to this day and which got me into trouble in college where I was always late with my English Lit. assignments as I would try to read everything by the assigned author before turning in the my paper.

    When photography students ask me how to get to be a good photographer, I always tell them, try and read a lot of good books. I don’t think this is a popular response – but I believe it, and I believe that is how imagination can be developed.

    • amolizgeven Says:

      Some of the most joyful days of my youth were during the summer when I could visit the library, take out books by my favorite authors, and spend lazy afternoons in my house reading. My favorite series was called The Happy Hollisters, which had a large family solving mysteries. To this day, for pure enjoyment, I love to read mysteries. And like you, when I find an author Ilike, I try to read all of his or her books. The best thing about being retired is being able to read anytime you want and not having to worry about getting up for work or grading homework.

  2. medusamorlock Says:

    I loved the Golden Books Encyclopedia set — spent many hours going through them and the haunting illustrations! Amazing! Still etched in my mind to this day and I know the set is responsible for my lifelong curiosity about things like volcanos — Paricutin! — mummies, mythology and all things historical! Such a great set and thanks for the memories!

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