Color lithograph, Blutgefässe der Menschen, from Meyers Konversations Lexicon


Color lithograph, Blutgefässe der Menschen, from Meyers Konversations Lexicon 6 th edition (1902 – 1908). The image is 25 x 20 cm in size and in good condition. Because the paper has been folded, a crack has formed in the middle right. it did not damage the image.

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Meyers Konversations-Lexikon was a German encyclopedia that appeared in the 19th and 20th centuries. Joseph Meyer (1796-1856), who founded Bibliographisches Institut in 1826 in Gotha, Germany, was both an entrepreneur and an idealist. He wanted to prove that this could go hand in hand with the publication of a large encyclopedia, which he considered a “suitable instrument for general intellectual emancipation.” In 1839 a start was made with this encyclopedia, which, like the existing works of Brockhaus or Pierer, was not aimed at the well-to-do bourgeoisie or the world of scholars, but should appeal to a wide circle of interested people, accessible and yet scientifically justified: an innovative work that, in contrast to his contemporaries, contained explanatory illustrations, technical drawings, cityscapes and maps for the subjects. To improve readability, the text was printed in columns: also a novelty. But the patience of the subscribers was put to the test: Meyer, trying to be as complete as possible, did not get along with his encyclopedia; after 6 years, 14 volumes had appeared and the letter E. was decided to call in a second team of editors, starting with the letter O, so that the subscribers alternately received episodes from both sections; it was not until 1852 that the last part was complete and the work, now counting 46 parts, was almost ready (some episodes were missing from the first section that appeared in 1853). Six parts followed with supplements, after which the work could finally be completed in 1855. Meyer was still able to experience the completion of his encyclopedia, but the project had taken too much of his strength; He died a year later. With its 52 volumes, “das Grosse Conversations-Lexikon für die gebildeten Stände” was the largest completed German-language encyclopedia of the 19th century.

Joseph Meyer was succeeded by his son Herrmann Julius (1826-1909), who continued his father’s work with the publication of a much shorter version of the encyclopedia, “Neues Conversations-Lexikon für alle Stände”, published 1857- 60, which would only have 15 parts. Considering the failure of the first edition, it was guaranteed that this edition would be ready within three years. Subscribers would receive everything that would appear too late for free. However, this work, which counts as “first edition”, was completed on time. Up to the First World War, five more revised and expanded versions followed, from the 3rd edition called “Meyers Konversations-Lexikon”, and of which especially the 5th (1893-97, 17 volumes) and 6th edition (1902-08, 20 volumes) huge print runs; around 250,000 sets were sold from both editions. The publishing house also advertised for these German-language works in the Netherlands and found a decent sale, presumably because similar, originally Dutch, editions were scanty and hardly contained any illustrations. The recession of the 1920s limited the 7th edition to 12 parts. This work with the short title “Meyers Lexikon”, which had a beautiful band design by the graphic artist Hugo Steiner-Prag, appeared from 1924-30. A next, 8th edition (1936-42), published during the National Socialist regime in Germany, turned out to be a brash adventure just like the very first. All articles had to be submitted to the Nazi party for approval; Finally, the party’s propaganda department provided ready-made articles, in which nothing could be changed. That earned the work, which remained unfinished due to the war, the nickname “Der Braune Meyer”.

The buildings of the publishing house, which had been located in the book trade town of Leipzig since 1874, were almost completely destroyed by the bombing of 1943/44; the publishing house itself was expropriated by the East German Communists in 1946 without compensation. In the Federal Republic of Germany, a new publishing house was established in 1953 in Mannheim; VEB Bibliographisches Institut continued to exist in Leipzig as “Volkseigener Betrieb”.

The curious situation now occurred, that there were two publishing houses “Bibliographisches Institut” in Germany, both of which brought the same traditional titles. For example, a GDR version of the Meyer encyclopedia was based in Leipzig, based on the Marxist ideology: “Meyers Neues Lexikon” (8 volumes, 1961-64; 2nd edition, 18 volumes, 1971-78). In Mannheim, it was not necessary to ignore party-political views: there the 9th edition appeared, from 1971-79, entitled “Meyers Enzyklopädisches Lexikon”.
With its 25 volumes, this edition, as well as the very first, was the largest German-language encyclopedia of the century.

In 1984, Bibliographisches Institut merged with its largest competitor in reference works: F.A. Brockhaus from Wiesbaden to “Bibliographisches Institut & amp; F.A. Brockhaus A.G.”, established in Mannheim. In 1991 the expropriated possessions in Leipzig were regained. The large encyclopedia of this company only appears under the name “Brockhaus”.

Meyers (Konversations-) Lexikon is one of the classical works of lexicography. It reflects almost a century and a half of culture and echoes the political developments in that period. The 8th edition and the two editions published in the GDR are also interesting in that respect.

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