A pivotal year for Funk & Wagnalls

1890 marked a turning point for publisher-bookseller Funk & Wagnalls, who since their founding in 1875 had been selling religious books. The letter below, on company letterhead, is dated May 21, 1890 and provides evidence that a shift in business models is underway. 

The letter indicates they are now offering The Encyclopedia Britannica in cloth ($38) or library sheep binding ($58), as well as the Cyclopedia of Quotations. They have had a good response to the Britannica offering and expect to start shipping the next month, June 1890. Their Standard Dictionary of the English Language would come out in 1894 and their own encyclopedia set, The Funk & Wagnalls Standard Encyclopedia, wouldn't be published until 1912. That set is no longer offered in a printed version, a casualty of the Internet game-changing 1990s. But you can still buy their dictionary... at Britannica .com!

Funk & Wagnalls enjoyed various levels of success well into the 20th century under changing ownership, but couldn't compete in print with the Internet and digital versions. Nor could the company they partnered with a century earlier. Funk & Wagnalls' last print edition of their encyclopedia set was published in 1997. Ironically, Microsoft used Funk & Wagnalls text for their initial digital version of an encyclopedia, but soon replaced that with their own content. Content from the Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia can still be found online through EBSCO Publishing, which provides content to educational institutions.

It was recently reported that the Encyclopedia Britanicca has ended its print run and will focus on their online business. For an interesting take on the demise of The Encyclopedia Britannica , as well as other print sets of encyclopedias, such as Funk & Wagnalls, read Wired writer Tim Carmody's March 14, 2012 article, Wikipedeia Didn't Kill Britannica, Windows Did.

And I can't let a post about Funk & Wagnalls end without a few vintage television references to their name. Readers old enough to remember know what's coming... 
"These envelopes have been hermetically sealed. They've been kept in a mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnalls' porch since noon today." -Ed McMahon with Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent on the Tonight Show.

The other comes from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In: , where on a regular basis you could hear "Go look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls," and many other references, as seen here:


  1. I bought a book at a yard sale and while looking through it found a letter dated 1922 and signed w.j. funk from funk and wagnalls. It came from new york just wandering if it has an value.

    1. Yes, it has value. ‘How much’ is the next question. Answer: I don't know. Whatever someone will pay. As Wilfred J. Funk was the son and successor of F&W founder IK Funk, it might not be as desirable as a letter by the founder. But it might be more desirable to a particular collector. You just never know. Besides supply and demand, value depends on condition, content, and real signature vs. printed signature, of course. Even the recipient of the letter can factor in the value. Interesting associations always add something. Give it a whirl on ebay with good photos and a detailed, accurate description and see what the market will bear. Signed copies of his many books list from $10 to $75, with condition and association, again, being a big determinant of value. I found one signed letter from WJ Funk on ebay (as of 01/17/2014) with a price tag of $1,199. Is that realistic? I don’t think so. A certain buyer might, though. What something is listed for and what that item is actual worth to someone can be miles apart at times. Good luck with it.


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