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Meyers Konversations-Lexikon

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Meyers Konversations-Lexikon was a German encyclopaedia.

Joseph Meyer (1796-1856), who had founded the publishing house Bibliographisches Institut in 1826 in Gotha, Germany (which had been moved to Hildburghausen in 1828), intended to issue an universal encyclopaedia meant for a broad public: people having a general knowledge as well as business men, technicians and scholars, considering contemporary works like those of Pierer and Brockhaus to be superficial or obsolete.

The first part of das Grosse Conversations-Lexikon für die gebildeten Stände ("Great encyclopaedia for the educated classes") appeared in October 1839. In contrast to its contemporaries it contained maps and illustrations.

There is no indication about the planned number of volumes or a time limit for this project, but little headway had been made by the otherwise dynamic Meyer. After six years 14 volumes had appeared, covering only one fifth of the alphabet. Another six years passed before the last (46th!) volume was published. Six supplementary volumes finally finished the work in 1855. Ultimately numbering 52 volumes it was the most comprehensive completed German encyclopedia of the 19th century, also called "der Wunder-Meyer" (The marvellous Meyer). The complete set was reprinted 1858-59.

The son of Joseph Meyer, Hermann Julius (1826-1909), published the next edition (which is officially the first), entitled Neues Conversations-Lexikon für alle Stände, 1857-60, that would only count 15 volumes. To avoid a long-time project, subscribers were promised it would be completed within three years, and all volumes appearing later would be given free. Of course, it was finished right on time.

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Map of Warsaw from the 1888 edition

The 2nd edition, Neues Konversations-Lexikon, ein Wörterbuch des allgemeinen Wissens, appeared 1861-67; the 3rd edition, now from Leipzig, was issued as Meyers Konversations-Lexikon. Eine Encyklopädie des allgemeinen Wissens 1874-78; both had 15 volumes.

The 4th edition, consisting of 16 volumes, appeared 1885-90; the 5th edition, with 17 volumes, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon. Ein Nachschlagewerk des allgemeinen Wissens, 1893 to 1897. This edition sold no less than 233,000 sets.

The 6th edition, entitled Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon, was published 1902-08. It had 20 volumes, and the largest sale of all Meyer editions with 240,000 sets. The First World War prevented an even bigger success.

The 7th and 8th editions, were both briefly named Meyers Lexikon. The 7th edition counted only 12 volumes, due to the economic depression of the twenties. It appeared 1924-1930. The 8th edition remained incomplete due to wartime circumstances (1936-42, only volumes 1-9 and 12 out of 12 planned were issued). Because it was filtered through the National Socialist censorship it has also been called "der braune Meyer" ("The brown Meyer", brown being the colour associated with the Nazis).

The buildings of Bibliographisches Institut were completely destroyed by the bombing raids on Leipzig in 1943/44; also were the data files of the encyclopaedia. That is why it should last until 1971 before the 9th edition could appear, now from Mannheim, entitled Meyers Enzyklopädisches Lexikon in 25 Bänden, completed 1979. Just like the very first edition, this final edition was the most comprehensive German encyclopaedia of the century.

In 1984 Bibliographisches Institut amalgamated with its biggest competitor in books of reference, F.A. Brockhaus, in a so-called "Elefantenhochzeit" (elephant marriage). Being aware that the new firm's program did not provide room for two similar works of this magnitude, the big serial reference works coming from Mannheim should be in future marketed under the name of Brockhaus.

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