A mid-century kids encyclopedia is pure upcycling gold

Joker from Golden Books encyclopedia
I try to find all my source materials at local thrift stores. But occasionally, I have things shipped to me from hundreds of miles away, cringing at my carbon footprint but unable to resist.

Yesterday was one of those times. My hard-working mailman lugged a heavy cardboard box up my front stairs and into my house. Guess what was inside?

A big box of creativity just waiting to happen!
Golden Book Encyclopedia circa 1960
Really, it's more exciting than it looks. It's a full set of The Golden Book Encyclopedia from 1960, with an atlas and dictionary thrown in. 

A while back I found a single issue at my local St. Vincent's (volume 4, "Chalk" to "Czechoslovakia"). Its size made it a candidate for a tablet case, and the illustrations were well-drawn and just plain fun. But would it sell?
Golden Book Encyclopedia circa 1960, volume 4
It would. And did, in less than a day. 

So I searched for more Golden Book encyclopedias at my favorite second-hand haunts. But no luck. So I went online, and hit the jackpot.

Why do I love these books so much? First, look at the collage on the cover above.  Crab, clock, cotton, chemist, cone (as in "pine"), citrus, coral, concrete, color wheel, cork. It's the stuff of a bad dream. It took a real genius to figure out how to group these items together in a compelling, realistic illustration.

I love the cover of volume 2 ("Arthur" to "Blood").
Golden Book Encyclopedia circa 1960, volume 2
Where else would you see a portrait of Beethoven flanked by a bunch of bananas, against a background of bark and bamboo?

If you think about it, this kind of alphabetic organization is an artifact of the printed medium. It's the best way to arrange a large amount of disparate information -- how else could you quickly locate the entry for "Barnacles" in thousands of pages? 

But this ordering system makes no sense in the digital world. I can Google "barnacles" and go directly to the information, bypassing "Bank" and "Barnum, Phineas Taylor."
PT Barnum
I'm Barnacle Bill the...oh wait...
I love these strange juxtapositions! Volume 2 ends with "Birthstones," "Bison," "Black Death," "Black Sea," "Blarney Stone, "Blizzard," and "Blood." It's a found poem.

Another thing I love are the illustrations. Some depict categories of things. And not the things you'd expect youngsters in 1960 to be curious about.
Ballet positions
Other illustrations show how people do things, stop-motion style.
How to bowl a strike
Looks easy, doesn't it?

Each section begins with a stylized version of the letter it covers, along with an explanation of how it got its shape. The letter N, for instance, started life as a snake.
The letter N
I love these books so much -- do I dare carve them up? I would hesitate, but despite their charm, they aren't rare. Plus, they smell a bit musty. Why not give them longer life as a tablet case or collage or...

Notecards! That's the first thing I made. Here's a sample.
Collaged notecard I made from Golden Book Encyclopedia illustrations
Yes, I started with volume 1, "Aardvark" to "Army."

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  1. Oh, my gosh! I had these as a child. I was born in '64. I can remember being fascinated by the Beethoven pic and carrying that one around the house with me. :)

    1. The illustrations are wonderful, aren't they?

  2. Can you tell be the name of the dictionary in center of the volumes? Thanks in advance.

    1. Sure: "The Golden Book Encyclopedia," "The Golden Book Picture Atlas of the World," and "The Golden Book Illustrated Dictionary" You can often find sets or individual volumes on Etsy or Ebay. Thanks for looking!


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