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|2005 Dictionary Fifty Pences|
Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield on 18th September 1709. His father, Michael, was a bookseller who had built his house on Breadmarket Street as a family home and a shop. The family was constantly plagued with financial problems and the young Samuel would find solace by sitting alone in the shop and reading for hours. His education was abruptly shortened by the continued lack of money and he eventually became a journalist in Birmingham and London. While working in Birmingham, Johnson met Elizabeth Porter who was twenty years his senior and already had three grown-up children. They were married on July 9th 1735 in Derby.
Life in London and the rise to fame...
The couple moved to London after an attempt to establish a school outside Lichfield came to nothing. Johnson reverted to his abilities as a writer and after many years of hard work he was offered the chance to create an English dictionary. Johnson could not believe his luck as this was one of his dearest wishes. There was a great need for a system of standardised spelling in the English language. Requests and proposals for a new dictionary had been made for decades by a group of London booksellers including Robert Dodsley and Thomas Longman. The two men contracted Johnson in June 1746 to prepare the work for the large sum of £1,575. Although he expected to finish in three years, it took Johnson nearly nine years to write, edit and publish his work. Remarkably, he completed the work singlehandedly with only clerical assistance to copy out the illustrative quotations which he had marked in books. Johnson prepared several revised editions during his life.
The Dictionary as a milestone...
The dictionary has a word list of about 40,000 words. An important innovation of Johnson's was to illustrate the meanings of his words by literary quotation. Most frequently, Johnson quoted Shakespeare, Milton and Dryden and the dictionary contains over 100,000 quotations. Unlike most modern lexicographers, Johnson introduced humour or prejudice into many of his definitions. They are extremely revealing of his sense of fun and irony. Among the best known are: "EXCISE: a hateful tax levied upon commodities..."; "DISTILLER: One who makes and sells pernicious and inflammatory spirits..."; and "OATS: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people".
Furthermore, Johnson was not afraid of upsetting genteel sensitivities. He made the following definition and added the amusing quote: "TO FART: To break wind behind. As when we gun discharge, Although the bore be ne'ere so large, Before the flame from muzzle burst, Just at the breech it flashes first; So from my lord his passion broke, He farted first, and then he spoke - Swift".
Johnson gave no guide to pronunciation in his dictionary. His work was unashamedly prescriptive and linguistically conservative, advocating traditional spellings rather than the simplifications that would be favoured by Noah Webster a century later. However, in spite of whatever shortcomings it might have, the dictionary was far and away the best of it's day, a milestone in English-language lexicography to which all modern dictionaries owe some gratitude. Johnson's dictionary was still considered authoritative until the appearance of the Oxford English Dictionary at the end of the nineteenth century. Contemporary selections from Johnson's dictionary are available in Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, ISBN 0802714218.
In 1762 George III awarded Johnson a pension which improved his circumstances somewhat. He liked to talk and began to spend his time in coffee houses, conversing with the literary and educated gentlemen of the day. It was during this period that he met the young Scot James Boswell who would later write Johnson's biography. In 1763 Johnson, accompanied by Boswell, travelled to Scotland and he published his observations in A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland in 1775. Further travels to Wales and France encouraged him to write essays on the English poets which he published in 1781. Johnson spent the summer of 1794 travelling to Lichfield, Birmingham and Oxford, returning to London unwell and suffering from the depression which had afflicted him all his life. He died on December 13th 1794 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.
Despite efforts to discredit Johnson as arrogant and pompous during the 19th century, he regained his status within the last century as one of our most gifted and eloquent writers.
Obverse - Fourth Portrait
All 2005 coins carried the fourth portrait obverse design by Ian Rank-Broadley.
Impressions of Dictionary entries for the words fifty and pence.
|Version||Mintage||Issue Price £|
|Uncirculated in Folder *|
|Piedfort Silver Proof||3,808||£28.50|
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|1||£25.00||Call to check availability|
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Fifty Pence Index
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