Conversation Lexicon

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The Konversationslexikon (the word Conversations-Lexicon was first used in 1708 as the "linguistic usage of the galant times") is a genre of lexicographical reference works that emerged in the 18th century and whose specific concern is to present knowledge in a generally understandable but comprehensive manner.

The original aim was to provide the reader with the knowledge necessary for the conversation in the salon . Brockhaus 1868 describes the self-image of the conversation lexicon as follows:

"The Conversations-Lexikon [has] the fluidization and popularization of scientific, artistic and technical results, not for business practice, but for the satisfaction and promotion of general education."

- Brockhaus : Preface to the 15th volume of the 11th edition (1868)

In the 20th century the existing conversational dictionaries were converted to encyclopedias due to the decreasing importance of conversation .

History and Development

The first conversation dictionary

Huebner's Conversations Lexicon, title page of the 1759 edition

The first lexicon with this name was the Reale Staats- Zeitungs- und Conversations-Lexicon , which had this title since the third edition in 1708 . It is linked to the name of the teacher Johann Huebner (1668–1731), who did not edit the lexicon, but only wrote the preface to it. Since the actual editor remained anonymous for a long time, the lexicon became known under his name as Huebners Lexicon or Huebners Conversations Lexicon . In the 18th century it saw 27 editions, each with several thousand copies, thus establishing the term Konversationslexikon as a popular general reference work.

As early as 1709, the work distributed the knowledge material to around 20,000 articles. In 1712, the lexicon was supplemented by the Curieuse nature, art, trade and action lexicon compiled by Paul Jacob Marperger , for which Johann Huebner also wrote the preface, and both were advertised together by the publisher. This was the step towards a lexicon encompassing a wide range of knowledge.

Löbel and Franke

Example page from Löbel's and Frankes Conversationslexikon from 1796
Title page of the 1st volume of Löbels and Frankes Conversationslexikon from 1796

The private scholar Renatus Gotthelf Löbel (1767–1799), together with the lawyer Christian Wilhelm Franke (1765–1831), edited the conversation lexicon with excellent consideration of the contemporary times .

Löbels und Frankes Conversationslexikon is the first encyclopedia in which the term "Konversationslexikon" appears as a separate title word. The work was published in Leipzig in six volumes in 1796–1808 by various publishers: FA Leupold (1796–1800), JC Werther (1806). The last volume is incomplete.

Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus bought the work at the Leipzig book trade fair in 1808 and had it completely reworked in the following years; it formed the foundation of the FA Brockhaus publishing house, founded in Amsterdam in 1805 as a bookstore .


Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus (1772–1823) bought the conversation lexicon , founded in 1796, from Renatus Gotthelf Löbel and Christian Wilhelm Franke on October 25, 1808 at the Leipzig bookseller's fair with excellent consideration of the contemporary times (short: Conversations-Lexicon ; full title: Conversations-Lexicon or a concise concise dictionary for the subjects arising from the sciences and arts in social entertainment with constant consideration of the events of the older and more recent times ).

Löbel and Franke's work comprised six volumes; FA Brockhaus had two supplementary volumes produced in 1809 (1810?) And 1811, which were published by FA Brockhaus Verlag in Amsterdam (1809/1810?) And Leipzig (1811). Brockhaus marketed the Conversations-Lexicon from 1808, initially under the same name, and in 1809 had the first volumes reprinted under the old title; this edition, published in Leipzig between 1809 and 1811, comprised six volumes and two supplementary volumes. This edition laid the foundation for the 21st edition of the Brockhaus Encyclopedia, which has been called since 1966 .

Title page of the encyclopedic concise dictionary for educated classes from 1819, volume 10

The second edition appeared in 10 volumes from 1812 to 1820 and was a great success as a publisher. With the 4th edition, which appeared in ten volumes between 1817 and 1819, the term “encyclopedia” was used for the first time: general hand encyclopedia for the educated classes . Since the 5th edition (1819–1820) the conversation dictionary has been edited by scientists. The four-volume Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon, published from 1837 to 1844, now exists online.

From the 13th edition, published between 1882 and 1887 in 16 volumes and a supplementary volume, the Brockhaus' Conversations-Lexikon contained. General German real encyclopedia for the first time also panels. From the 14th edition (1892–1897) Brockhaus' Konversations-Lexikon was also illustrated in the text for the first time, but the scope of 16 volumes and a supplementary volume was initially retained.

By Brockhaus Konversations-Lexikon and Meyers Konversations-Lexikon , the editions of facts on intellectual history that appeared before the First World War are still very productive, after which the natural sciences come to the fore.


Heinrich August Pierer (1794–1850) was the editor of the lesser-known Universal Lexicon of the Present and Past ( Universal Lexicon of the Present and Past or the latest encyclopedic dictionary of the sciences, arts and crafts (= Pierer's Encyclopedic Dictionary [?])). It was first published in 1824-1836 in 26 volumes and was to Pierers death of Julius Löbe continued; Over 220 employees were involved in creating the 2nd edition.

Pierer published several new editions, each updated at short intervals: 1840–1846 (2nd edition in 34 volumes; around 17,000 pages in total), 1849–1852 (3rd edition in 17 volumes); Löbe initiated a fundamental revision that appeared from 1857–1865 (4th edition in 19 volumes), another followed in 1867–1873 (5th edition); Löbel was no longer involved in the following edition from 1875–1880 (6th edition in 18 volumes, published by A. Spaarmann, Oberhausen and Leipzig, and later by the Baruch Literary Institute, Cologne, and then by JW Spemann, Stuttgart) . As supplements and updates, six supplement volumes were published for the first time in 1841–1847, a further six supplement volumes in 1850–1854, as well as a volume with the latest supplements in 1855 and three volumes as yearbooks in 1865–1873 . In addition, a volume of illustrations with 2,500 illustrations on 67 lithographic plates was published in 1848.

Although the work is largely forgotten today, it was highly valued by contemporaries; Contemporary critics wrote that Pierer's work was "the richest conversation lexicon, which the facts with a completeness that can be expected, and therefore an extremely useful reference manual for everyone" (Gustav Schwab and Karl Klüpfel).

Pierer's Universal Lexicon served as a model for Meyer's Large Conversations Lexicon for the educated classes (1840–1852). Pierer complained in 1848 that Meyer had "reproduced our work in the whole system [...] by using our plan, our register, he saved himself the most laborious and difficult part of the system" (from the preface to the 2nd edition).


The Large Conversations Lexicon published by Joseph Meyer (1796–1856) for the educated classes (46 volumes, 6 supplement volumes, 1840–1855 , in short: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon or Meyers Lexikon ) is - next to Brockhaus - the second important one German-language encyclopedic work of general content and designed in deliberate competition with Brockhaus ; it appeared in several editions in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The readers of this work were able to get in contact with the editors from the Bibliographical Institute . Each volume contains an appendix about the correspondence that has taken place, the so-called correspondence sheet .

The third edition (1874-1884) is subtitled An Encyclopedia of General Knowledge .

The fourth edition, published in 16 volumes from 1885–1890, is free of copyright. All volumes can now be viewed as scanned images and as OCR full text, which corresponds to around 16,000 pages. The volumes have contained numerous drawings and plans since the first edition.


The sons of the publisher's founder Bartholomä Herder (1774–1839) published the fourth important conversation lexicon of the 19th century: Herders Conversations-Lexikon (5 volumes, 1854–1857 , Freiburg im Breisgau, Verlag Herder ; for short: Herders Lexicon ).

Herder Verlag in Freiburg (Breisgau) published between 1825 and 1827 under the title Systematic Picture Gallery for the General German Real Encyclopedia, the first picture supplement to a conversation lexicon; it contains around 4,000 illustrations. In comparison, the Brockhaus' Conversations-Lexikon was illustrated relatively late from the 13th edition (1882-1887), that is around 60 years later, for the first time with plates and from the 14th edition (1892-1897) also in text.

Meyer's New Lexicon

A Marxist lexicon with the scope and depth of a conversation lexicon is Meyers Neues Lexikon , VEB Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1961–1964 (8 vols., Vol. 9: supplements to subject terms and geographical proper names, 1969). It was published in the 2nd edition from 1971 to 1977, substantially expanded in 15 volumes. There were also vol. 16: Register A – Z, 1978; Vol. 17: Atlas (Maps), 1978; Vol. 18: Atlas (Register), 1978.

Conversation dictionaries in other languages


  • Enciclopèdia Catalana (Publisher: Enciclopèdia Catalana SA, Barcelona)
    • Gran Enciclopèdia Catalana, Primera Edició (first edition), 1969–1980 (vol. 1–15), 2005 (vol. 16–21; 6 supplementary volumes) Direcció (director) Jordi Carbonell i de Ballester (1965–1971); Joan Carreras i Martí (from 1971), ISBN 84-300-5511-8 (complete works)
    • Gran Enciclopèdia Catalana, Segona Edició (second edition, various reprints), 1986–1993, Direcció (direction) Joan Carreras i Martí (from 1986), 24 volumes, 1 supplement and 1 atlas, ISBN 84-85194-81-0 (complete works )


  • Aga G. Asaki among others: Leksikonul de conversatie, prelucrat si publicat de o societate literara sub directia Agai G. Asaki ("Conversation dictionary , edited and edited by a literary society chaired by Aga G. Asaki"). 1842


  • Pehr Gustaf Berg: Svenskt konversationslexicon . 1845-1852 (4 vols.); it is one of the earliest Swedish conversational dictionaries and was heavily influenced by Brockhaus.
  • Nordisk familjebok  : Konversationslexikon och Realencklopedi in is in its 1st edition (Stockholm 1876–1899) a conversation dictionary . Since the 2nd edition (1904–1926, 38 vol.) It hadassumedthe size of a universal encyclopedia .
  • Nordiskt Konversationslexikon, 1921–1927 (20 vols.)
  • Bonnier's (konversations-, stora, familje-) lexikon, several editions 1922–1990 (13 and 15 vols.)
  • Åhlén & Åkerlunds Konversationslexikon, 1925–1930


  • František Ladislav Rieger : Slovník naučný ("Conversation Lexicon"). Prague 1860–1874 (10 volumes and supplementary volume). It is considered to be the first conversational dictionary in the Czech language.
  • Jan Otto among others: Ottův slovník naučný (“Otto's conversation dictionary”). Prague 1888–1909 (28 volumes). New edition as Ottův slovník naučný nové doby ("Otto's Konversationslexikon der neue Zeit"), Prague 1930–1943 (6 volumes)


  • Gábor Döbrentei: Közhasznú Ismeretek Tára ("General Conversation Lexicon"). Heckenast, Pest 1831–1834 (12 volumes)

See also


  • Günter Gurst: On the history of the conversation lexicon in Germany. In: Hans-Joachim Diesner, Günter Gurst (Ed.): Lexica yesterday and today. VEB Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1976, pp. 137–188.
  • Hans-Albrecht Koch (Hrsg.): Older conversation encyclopedias and specialist encyclopedias: Contributions to the history of knowledge transmission and mentality formation. (= Contributions to the history of text, transmission and education. Volume 1). Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2013, ISBN 978-3-631-62341-1 .
  • Bernhard Kossmann: German universal lexica of the 18th century. Their essence and their informational value, illustrated using the example of the works of Jablonski and Zedler. In: Börsenblatt for the German book trade - Frankfurt edition. No. 89, November 5, 1968 (= Archive for the History of the Book Industry. Volume 62), pp. 2947–2968.
  • Ernst Herbert Lehmann: History of the conversation lexicon. Brockhaus, Leipzig 1934.
  • Karl Pfannkuch: The Conversations Lexicon in the Mirror of the 19th Century. In: The friends of the FA Brockhaus publishing house. Volume 4. Brockhaus, Wiesbaden 1956, pp. 23-35.
  • Anton Ernst Oskar Piltz: On the history and bibliography of the encyclopedic literature, especially the conversation lexicon. In: Heinrich Brockhaus (Hrsg.): Complete list of the works published by FA Brockhaus in Leipzig since it was founded by Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus in 1805 up to his centenary in 1872. In chronological order with biographical and literary-historical notes. Brockhaus, Leipzig 1872–1875, pp. I – LXXII ( digitized in the Internet Archive ).
  • Ulrike Spree: The pursuit of knowledge. A comparative genre history of the popular encyclopedia in Germany and Great Britain in the 19th century. (= Communicatio. Volume 24). Niemeyer, Tübingen 2000, ISBN 3-484-63024-8 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Konversationslexikon  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Brockhaus Konversationslexika  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: Meyers Konversationslexika  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: Pierer Konversationslexika  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Ernst Lewalter : The conversation dictionary and its ancestors. In: Atlantis. Countries, peoples, travels. Volume 12, 1940, p. 298 f.
  2. Compare also Pierer's complete lexicon at Harald Fischer Verlag ( Memento from December 13, 2004 in the Internet Archive ).