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10 Very Rare (and Very Expensive) Video Games

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If you’ve ever collected baseball cards, comic books, stamps, or those limited edition commemorative plates, you understand the concept of the “Holy Grail” item. It’s that last, hard-to-find, incredibly rare, usually expensive piece that you must have before you can officially say your collection is “complete.” If you’re a collector of vintage home video game cartridges (or “carts”), sometimes that can mean paying a pretty penny for the pièce de résistance.


NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (NES) 

Back in the day, everyone had a Nintendo. Due to the console’s popularity, there are a large number of collectors willing to pay the equivalent of a new car for some of the system’s very rare carts.

1. STADIUM  EVENTS

Price Range: $2,600 - $41,300; $10,000 for the box alone

Why So Expensive? Stadium Events was released by Bandai in 1987 as one of the few games available in America that was made for the company’s Family Fun Fitness mat—a soft, plastic controller you walked, ran, and jumped on to make the game characters move. Nintendo bought the rights to the game and the mat in 1988 and re-released them as WorldClass Track Meet and the Power Pad controller. To avoid consumer confusion, Nintendo pulled all copies of Stadium Events from shelves and had them destroyed, but not before approximately 200 carts had already been sold. Of those 200, collectors believe that only about 20 complete copies of the game exist today, making them a real rarity.

Stadium Events made headlines in 2010 with two high-profile eBay sales: A North Carolina woman was cleaning out her garage and found an old Nintendo and a handful of games, including Stadium Events. She put them up on eBay without high expectations and was amazed to see the bids steadily climb up to $13,105. While the game itself is valuable, the winning bidder was most interested in the cardboard box in which it came; since most kids threw the box away after tearing open a new game, intact boxes for any title are really hard to come by, but especially so for Stadium Events. Empty Stadium Events boxes have been known to sell for $10,000 alone.

After hearing of the success of this eBay seller, a man in Kansas dug up a factory-sealed copy of the game that he was just about to donate to Goodwill. He had purchased the game in 1987, but could never find the fitness mat to go with it. It was still sealed because he’d meant to return it. His game became only the second known sealed copy in existence. When his eBay auction ended, the game sold for an amazing $41,300.

Earlier this year, another sealed copy of Stadium Events sold on eBay for $35,100, meaning the game has lost a little bit of its value, but not much.

The same game repackaged by Nintendo, World Class Track Meet, generally sells for about $5 on eBay.

2. 1990 NINTENDO WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (GRAY AND GOLD EDITIONS)

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Price Range: Gray: $8,500 - $20,200; Gold: $26,677

Why So Expensive? In 1990, Nintendo held a 30-city gaming tournament to find the best player in the world. Players had to get the best score in demo versions of three games—Super Mario Bros.Rad Racer, and Tetris—all within a six-minute time limit.

At the end of each city’s tournament, the winners of each of three age groups were given special gray Championship cartridges exactly like those used in the competition, meaning only 90 of these cartridges were distributed. A gold version was sent out to those who won a promotional contest in the pages of Nintendo Power magazine. Only 26 gold games were produced, so they’re especially hard to find and command a higher price today; the last one to sell on eBay went for $26,677.

3. NINTENDO CAMPUS CHALLENGE

Price Range: $14,000 - $20,100

Why So Expensive? In the early 1990s, Nintendo held competitions on college campuses and at popular Spring Break destinations. Like the World Championships, players had six minutes to play for high scores in demo versions of three games: Super Mario Bros. 3PinBot, and Dr. Mario.

Most copies of the game were destroyed after the competition tour ended, but one Nintendo employee kept his cart and sold it to Rob Walters at a garage sale in 2006. This garage sale is legendary among retrogamers, as Rob bought all kinds of NES Holy Grails for only $1,000. By the time he resold everything, he’d made 50 times that. Part of that $50,000 was the Campus Challenge cartridge, which went for $14,000. Shortly after, the buyer of the cart, collector J.J. Hendricks, turned around and sold it on eBay for $20,100. As far as anyone knows, it’s the only copy of the game in existence.

SUPER NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM

Although not quite as ubiquitous as the NES, the SNES was still a very popular game console. With more than 700 titles for the SNES fan to collect, there are bound to be a few that demand a high price.

4. EXERTAINMENT MOUNTAIN BIKE RALLY & SPEED RACER COMBO CART

Price Range: $1,500 - $3,700

Why So Expensive? Back in 1994, the exercise equipment company Life Fitness released the Exertainment System. As the cheesy name implies, it was a combination exercise bike and entertainment system with a TV screen built into the console. Now gym rats could watch regular cable television, Life Fitness exercise programs, or play games on the built-in Super Nintendo using specially designed controllers split between each handle of the bike.

There were two games made specifically for the Exertainment System: Mountain Bike Rally, and Speed Racer, based on the popular Japanese cartoon. While Mountain Bike Rally was available as a standalone cartridge, Speed Racer was only available as part of a combo cartridge that also included Mountain Bike Rally. Gym owners could buy either of the cartridges with the Exertainment cycle, but they could be purchased through retail outlets as well. Of course the bikes were expensive and very few people had one in their homes, so the retail versions mostly went unsold. As the Exertainment cycles were replaced by newer equipment, most owners simply threw the cartridges away since they weren't compatible with a regular SNES. Naturally, this means they’re pretty hard to come by today.

While a loose copy of the Mountain Bike Rally cartridge sells for about $25, a factory sealed retail copy can go for anywhere between $50 and $350. But it’s the combo cartridge that is especially valuable with completist SNES collectors, bringing in over $1,500 for a loose cartridge, and nearly $3,700 for a factory sealed copy.

5. SUPER COPA

Price Range: $400 - $6,900

Why So Expensive? The story of Super Copa is a bit confusing for collectors: The game was a South American version of the North American soccer game, Tony Meola’s Sidekicks Soccer. Released in the mid-1990s, it’s merely a decent soccer game for the SNES. Although it was available in South America through a distributor named Playtronic, there is a second version of the game with different box and label artwork, that doesn’t include the Playtronic branding anywhere. This has led some to speculate it was also released in North America by a different company, American Softworks.

Whether it was released here or not, the alternative version of the game is hard to find, so naturally collectors are clamoring for it—so much so that bootlegs from Brazil have started cluttering eBay, making buyers wary of spending too much on a loose cartridge. However, if the original box is part of the auction, the prices can go as high as $400. And, if the auction is a factory sealed copy in exceptional condition, it could fetch as much as $6,900.

6. NINTENDO POWERFEST 1994

Price Range: $10,000 - $10,988

Why So Expensive? Much like the Nintendo Campus Challenge, 1994’s Nintendo PowerFest was a traveling competition where the best SNES players across the U.S. got to show their stuff on timed versions of three different games: Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, Super Mario Kart, and Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League. The person with the best score from each city was later invited to come to San Diego and compete at the Nintendo World Championships II.

For the tour, 33 specially designed cartridges were produced. At the end of the tour, the cartridges were returned to Nintendo and reused for parts. Well, most of them anyway. One cartridge was found by Rob Walters at that legendary garage sale, and was thought to be the only one in existence for many years. The cartridge eventually made its way into the hands of collector Rick Bruns, who participated in PowerFest when he was a kid, making it all the way to the San Diego finals. Bruns paid $10,000 for this one-of-a-kind cartridge in 2006.

Much to everyone’s surprise, another copy resurfaced in 2012; however this cartridge was actually the first version of the game. In the early days of the competition, a home run in Ken Griffey, Jr. was worth 10,000 points, which wasn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. So Nintendo found that most players focused on the Mario games to rack up points, and neglected the baseball game. To convince players to take Griffey more seriously during the finals, they changed the score to one million points for a home run. Bruns had a one million-point copy of the cartridge, but the new one was a 10,000-point version.

The second PowerFest cartridge was sold in January 2012 to J.J. Hendricks for $12,000. Hendricks turned around and put it on eBay in 2013 and received bids up to $23,100. Unfortunately, the high bidder backed out, and when Hendricks tried again in 2014, he was disappointed to see the cartridge had actually lost a little bit of value, only reaching $10,988 in the second auction.

ATARI 2600

The wood-grained granddaddy of home video game systems still has a rabid fanbase. There were a lot of fly-by-night companies getting in on the video game craze, which means there are a lot of rare carts out there for fans to collect.

7. AIR RAID

Price Range: $3,000 - $33,433

Why So Expensive? For many years, Air Raid was an enigma for Atari fans. The game in the strange, blue case with the unusual “T-handle” design had appeared around 1984, but no one who owned the game had a box or instruction manual to go with it. There were rumors that said it was the one and only game produced by a company called “Menavision” (or perhaps “Menovision”). In fact, collectors weren’t even sure if Air Raid was the correct title of the game because it’s not found anywhere on the cartridge. The mystery, as well as the fact there were only 12 known copies, made it a must-have for serious Atari collectors.

But all that changed in 2010 when Tanner Sandlin read a previous version of this article over on CNN.com. He recognized that signature blue, T-handle case on the cartridge, and dug through a few boxes in his garage, finding the thirteenth known copy of Air Raid—complete with box. By the time his eBay auction ended, Sandlin’s copy of Air Raid sold for an incredible $31,600.

Another boxed copy of Air Raid was found in 2012 by Harv Bennett, a former drug store manager whose store sold video games back in the 1980s. Bennett was given a copy of Air Raid by a salesman and had kept it among a small treasure trove of boxed Atari games in storage ever since. Much to Bennett’s surprise, when he opened the box, he found that he also had the instruction manual. The manual made Bennett’s the first “Complete In Box” (CIB) copy ever found. He put the game up on GameGavel.com, where it ended up selling for $33,433.

8. RED SEA CROSSING


Price Range: $10,000 - $13,877

Why So Expensive? In 2007, a new user logged into the forums on AtariAge.com and asked about a game he had recently picked up at a garage sale for 50 cents. The game was Red Sea Crossing, in which the player took on the role of Moses crossing the Red Sea, dodging fish, turtles, and the occasional arrow fired by a pixelated Egyptian. There was no box and no instruction manual, but the game label did have a company name and an 800-number that was used to identify the creator, Steve Stack.

One of the forum members found Mr. Stack, who confirmed he had created the game in 1983 to sell to the niche market of Christian households. Stack said it was the only game he’d ever made and he only had a few hundred cartridges manufactured for distribution exclusively through mail order. He couldn’t remember how many had sold, but admitted that it wasn’t very many. Unfortunately, he didn’t know what had happened to the unsold cartridges, so there was a very real chance that the one that had been purchased at the garage sale was the only one left.

With the game’s history confirmed, the AtariAge fans were salivating over what the new owner was going to do. Much to the surprise of everyone, the owner sat on the game for five years, before finally auctioning it off in 2012 on GameGavel.com, where the one-of-a-kind game sold for $10,400.

News of the auction made the internet rounds and Travis Kerestesy and Roey Lebkowitz, the owners of Medium Bob’s Curiosity Shop in Philadelphia, realized they had a copy of this very rare game sitting in their store window with a $50 price tag. Just a few days after the first Red Sea Crossing auction ended, they put their copy on eBay, where it sold for $13,877. No new copies of the game have surfaced since then, but it’s entirely possible that another one is out there somewhere just waiting to be found.

9. ATLANTIS II 

Price Range: $5,000 - $7,000

Why So Expensive? It’s never mentioned in the same breath as Pac-Man or Donkey Kong, but Atlantis was a pretty popular game in 1982. The gameplay was similar to Missile Command, with players defending their base from overhead attack by enemy ships. The developer held a tournament called Destination Atlantis, where players were invited to send in photos of their TV screens displaying their high scores. The best players were then sent Atlantis II, a special edition of the game that featured faster enemy ships worth fewer points, making it harder to get a high score, but easier to determine the true champions.

Because this version was not mass produced, it’s pretty rare today. But if you find a copy of the original Atlantis at a garage sale, it might be a good idea to pick it up anyway. The competition cart had the exact same colorful label as the regular Atlantis, but had a small, white sticker slapped on the front that read Atlantis II. The label was easily peeled off, so a quick Google search will show you how to determine if you bought a $3 Atari game or a $7,000 one.

10. E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL


Price Range: $5 - $1,537

Why So Expensive? There are actually more valuable Atari games out there, but this one is a bit unusual, so I’m throwing it in as a bonus for you.

The Atari video game adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster film is often considered one of the worst video games in history, and is usually credited with bringing down the entire industry in 1983. The story went that Atari had so many unsold copies of E.T. that they had no choice but to bury them all in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico, hiding their shame for eternity.

That is until the games were dug up in April of 2014.

The game’s terrible reputation has become legendary among gaming enthusiasts, so much so that the copies of E.T. that were unearthed from the landfill are now, ironically, considered collector’s items. In all, 792,000 games were excavated, not just E.T., but also dozens of other Atari titles like Missile Command, Asteroids, and Defender, and are now the property of the City of Alamogordo.

The city decided to sell hundreds of the cartridges on eBay with many of the rest being donated to museums around the world. The first round of 100 games went live on eBay in November and brought in over $37,000, with the highest bid coming in at $1,537 for a mangled copy of E.T. that had been buried in a garbage dump for 30 years. The final round of auctions ends soon, so now’s your chance to grab this dirty (but fascinating) piece of video game history. If you want to buy a non-landfill E.T. for some reason, it can be had on eBay for about $5.

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15 Fascinating Facts About Candyman
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Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a Chicago graduate student with a deep fascination with urban legends, which she and her friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are using as the basis for a thesis project. After they stumble across the local legend of Candyman, a well-to-do black artist who fell in love with a white woman in the late 1800s and was murdered for it, Helen wants to learn more. When she’s told that Candyman still haunts Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project, and that his spirit can be summoned by repeating his name into a mirror five times, Helen does just that … and all hell breaks loose.

What began as a low-budget indie film has morphed into a contemporary classic of the horror genre, and essential Halloween viewing. In 1992, English filmmaker Bernard Rose—who got his start working as a gopher on The Muppet Show—turned Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” into Candyman, which was released in theaters 25 years ago today. In honor of the film’s anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about Candyman.

1. EDDIE MURPHY WAS CONSIDERED FOR THE LEAD.

Though the role of Candyman turned Tony Todd into a horror icon, he wasn’t the only actor in consideration for the film’s title role: Eddie Murphy was also reportedly a contender for the part. Though it’s unclear exactly why he wasn’t cast, sources have reported that it had to do with everything from his height (at 5 feet 9 inches, he wouldn’t seem nearly as intimidating as the 6-foot-5 Todd) to his salary demands.

2. AN UNEXPECTED PREGNANCY LANDED VIRGINIA MADSEN THE LEAD.

Virginia Madsen stars in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

When asked by HorrorNewsNetwork about how she got the role of Helen in Candyman, Virginia Madsen shared that it was almost by accident: She was supposed to play Bernie, Helen’s friend and classmate, the role that eventually went to Kasi Lemmons.

“I was actually very good friends with Bernard [Rose] and his wife Alexandra,” Madsen said. “She is a wonderful actress, who actually brought Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’ to her husband. She thought this would be a great film, and he could direct her. She was supposed to be Helen. I was going to play [Kasi Lemmons'] part, until they made the character African American. Then I was out.

“Right before shooting, Alexandra found out she was pregnant. It was great for me, but it was so sad for her because this was her role; she found this story and really wanted it. So when I was asked to step in I felt like ‘I can’t take my friend’s role.’ She actually came over one day and said ‘It would just kill me to see someone else play this role, you have to be the one who plays it.’ So with her blessing I took on the role. I really tried to work my butt off just to honor her.”

3. IT COULD HAVE STARRED SANDRA BULLOCK.

On the film’s DVD commentary, producer Alan Poul said that had Madsen been unable to step into the role of Helen, the part would have likely been offered to Sandra Bullock, who was still a relative unknown actress at that point. Though she had played the role of Tess McGill in the television adaptation of Working Girl, she was still a couple of years away from Speed (1994), the role that launched her into stardom.

4. ITS OPENING SHOT WAS GROUNDBREAKING.

The film’s opening credits feature a great aerial view of Chicago, which was pretty revolutionary for its time. “We did that with an incredible new machine called the Skycam, which can shoot up to a 500mm lens with no vibration,” Rose told The Independent. “You've never seen that shot before, at least not done that smoothly.”

5. NOT ALL OF THE FILM’S CREEPY DETAILS SPRUNG FROM CLIVE BARKER’S IMAGINATION.

While investigating one of Candyman’s crime scenes, Helen and Bernie discover that the design of the apartment’s medicine cabinet made it a possible point of entry for an intruder. This was not a made-up piece of horror movie fiction. While researching the film, Rose learned that a series of murders had been committed in Chicago in this very way.

6. BERNARD ROSE SEES CANDYMAN AS A ROMANTIC FIGURE.

Tony Todd stars in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Viewers may think of Candyman as one of the horror genre’s most terrifying villains, but Rose said that “the idea always was that he was kind of a romantic figure. And again, romantic in sort of the Edgar Allan Poe sense—it's the romance of death. He's a ghost, and he's also the resurrection of something that is kind of unspoken or unspeakable in American history, which is slavery, as well. So he's kind of come back and he's haunting what is the new version of the racial segregation in Chicago.

“And I think there's also something very seductive and very sweet and very romantic about him, and that's what makes him interesting. In the same way there is about Dracula. In the end, the Bogeyman is someone you want to surrender to. You're not just afraid of. There's a certain kind of joy in his seduction. And Tony was always so romantic. Tony ties him in so elegantly and is such a gentleman. He was wonderful.”

7. THE BEES IN THE FILM WERE BRED SPECIFICALLY TO APPEAR ONSCREEN.

No, that is not CGI! The bees that play a key role in Candyman are indeed real. So that they looked appropriately terrifying, but were less dangerous to the cast and crew, the filmmakers used newborn bees—they were just 12 hours old—so that they looked fully grown, but had less powerful stingers.

8. TONY TODD WAS STUNG 23 TIMES, AND GOT A BONUS EACH TIME IT HAPPENED.

Photo of Tony Todd in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

In addition to allowing the filmmakers to cover his face with bees, Todd actually agreed to film a scene in which he had a mouthful of bees—and that, too, was all real. He told TMZ that he wore a dental dam to prevent any bees from sliding into his throat—which doesn’t mean that he didn’t suffer a sting or two … or 23, to be exact, over the course of three Candyman movies. Though it might have been worth it. “I had a great lawyer,” he told TMZ. “A thousand dollars a pop.”

9. THE BEES WEREN’T GREAT NEWS FOR MADSEN, EITHER.

Madsen, too, had to get up close and personal with those bees—a fact that almost forced her to pass on the role. “When Bernie was first asking me to do the role I said, ‘Well, I can’t. I’m allergic to bees,’” she told HorrorNewsNetwork. “He said ‘No you’re not allergic to bees, you’re just afraid.’ So I had to go to UCLA and get tested because he didn’t believe [me]. I was tested for every kind of venom. I was far more allergic to wasps. So he said, ‘We’ll just [have] paramedics there, it will be fine!’ You know actors, we’ll do anything for a paycheck! So fine, I’ll be covered with bees.

“So we a had a bee wrangler and he pretty much told us you can’t freak out around the bees, or be nervous, or swat at them, it would just aggravate them. They used baby bees on me. They can still sting you, but are less likely. When they put the bees on me it was crazy because they have fur. They felt like little Q-tips roaming around on me. Then you have pheromones on you, so they’re all in love with you and think you’re a giant queen. I really just had to go into this Zen sort of place and the takes were very short. What took the longest was getting the bees off of us. They had this tiny ‘bee vacuum,’ which wouldn’t harm the bees. After the scene where the bees were all over my face and my head, it took both Tony and I 45 minutes just to get the bees off. That’s when it became difficult to sit still. It was cool though, I felt like a total badass doing it.”

10. PHILIP GLASS COMPOSED THE SCORE, BUT WAS DISAPPOINTED IN THE MOVIE.

When Philip Glass signed on to compose the score for Candyman, he apparently envisioned the final film being something totally different. According to Rolling Stone, “What he'd presumed would be an artful version of Clive Barker's short story ‘The Forbidden’ had ended up, in his view, a low-budget slasher.” Glass was reportedly disappointed in the film, and felt that he had been manipulated. Still, the haunting music is considered a classic score—and Glass’s own view of it seems to have softened over time. “It has become a classic, so I still make money from that score, get checks every year,” he told Variety in 2014.

11. MANY OF THE FILM'S SCENES WERE SHOT AT CABRINI-GREEN.

In 2011, the last remaining high-rise in the Cabrini-Green housing project was demolished. Over the years, the property—which opened in 1942—gained a notorious reputation around the world for being a haven for violence, drugs, gangs, and other criminal activities. While the project’s real-life history weaves its way into the narrative of Candyman, it only makes sense that Rose would want to shoot there. Which he did. But in order to gain permission to shoot there, he had to agree to cast some of the residents as extras.

“I went to Chicago on a research trip to see where it could be done and I was shown around by some people from the Illinois Film Commission and they took me to Cabrini-Green,” Rose said. “And I spent some time there and I realized that this was an incredible arena for a horror movie because it was a place of such palpable fear. And rule number one when you're making a horror movie is set it somewhere frightening. And the fear of the urban housing project, it seemed to me, was actually totally irrational because you couldn't really be in that much danger. Yes, there was crime there, but people were actually afraid of driving past it. And there was such an aura of fear around the place and I thought that was really something interesting to look into because it's sort of a kind of fear that's at the heart of modern cities. And obviously, it's racially motivated, but more than that—it's poverty motivated.”

12. THE FILM’S PRODUCERS WERE WORRIED THAT THE FILM WOULD BE CONSIDERED RACIST.

During pre-production, Candyman’s producers began to worry that the film might draw criticism for being racist, given that its villain was black and it was largely set in an infamous housing project. “I had to go and have a whole set of meetings with the NAACP, because the producers were so worried,” Rose told The Independent. “And what they said to me when they'd read the script was 'Why are we even having this meeting? You know, this is just good fun.' Their argument was 'Why shouldn't a black actor be a ghost? Why shouldn't a black actor play Freddy Krueger or Hannibal Lecter? If you're saying that they can't be, it's really perverse. This is a horror movie.'”

13. STILL, SOME FILMMAKERS COMPLAINED THAT IT WAS RACIST.

In a 1992 story in the Chicago Tribune, some high-profile black filmmakers expressed their disappointment that the film seemed to perpetuate several racist stereotypes. “There’s no question that this film plays on white middle-class fears of black people,” director Carl Franklin (Out of Time, Devil in a Blue Dress) said. “It unabashedly uses racial stereotypes and destructive myths to create shock. I found it hokey and unsettling. It didn't work for me because I don’t share those fears, buy into those myths.”

Reginald Hudlin, who directed House Party, Boomerang, and Marshall, described the film as “worrisome,” though he didn’t want to speak on the record about his specific issues with the film. “I've gotten calls about [the movie], but I think I'm going to reserve comment,” he said. “Some of my friends are in it and I may someday want to work for TriStar.”

For Rose, those assessments may have been hard to hear, as his goal in adapting Barker’s story and directing it was to upend the myths about inner cities. “[T]he tradition of oral storytelling is very much alive, especially when it's a scary story,” he told The Independent. “And the biggest urban legend of all for me was the idea that there are places in cities where you do not go, because if you go in them something dreadful will happen—not to say that there isn't danger in ghettos and inner city areas, but the exaggerated fear of them is an urban myth.”

14. IT’S STILL THE ROLE THAT MADSEN IS MOST RECOGNIZED FOR (ESPECIALLY AT AIRPORTS).

Kasi Lemmons and Virginia Madsen in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Though she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination in 2005 for Alexander Payne’s Sideways, in 2012 Madsen said that Candyman is still the role she is most recognized for—especially at airports.

“More people recognize me from that movie than anything I’ve done,” she told HorrorNewsNetwork. “It means a lot to me. It was after years of struggling. As an actor, you always want a film that’s annual, like It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. I just love that I have a Halloween movie. Now it’s kind of legend this story. People have watched it since they were kids, and every Halloween it’s on, and they watch it now with their kids. That means a lot to me. The place I get recognized the most is the airport security for some reason. Every person in airport security has seen Candyman. Maybe it makes them a little afraid of me.”

15. THERE WAS AN ACTUAL CANDYMAN KILLER.

Though the Chicago-based legend of Candyman is a work of fiction, there was an actual serial killer known as “Candyman” or “The Candy Man.” Between 1970 and 1973, Dean Corll kidnapped, tortured, and murdered at least 28 young boys in the Houston area. Corll earned his sweet nickname from the fact that his family owned a candy factory.

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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