Lot 12 of 457:
Classic 1939 Black Jazz ‘Dictionary’ and quiz book  

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Lot closed - Sold For (Includes Buyers Premium):$1,920
$600 - $900

Cab Calloway's famous 1939 Jazz 'Jive Dictionary' [with] Prof. Cab Calloway's Swingformation Bureau

Calloway, Cab

New York



  • The New Cab Calloway’s Cat-ologue / a Hepster’s Dictionary. 14pp. 11.5x7.1 cm  (4.5x2¾"), original pictorial wrappers. Revised Edition, 1939.
  • Prof. Cab Calloway’s Swingformation Bureau. Mickey Goldsen, editor. 14pp. 11.5x7.1 cm  (4.5x2¾"), original pictorial wrappers, with some drawings in the text. 1939.

Rare imprints. OCLC/WorldCat locates only one copy of the first imprint, and no holding of the second in any American institution. The New Cab Calloway's Hepsters Dictionary is represented in two institutions, The University of Chicago and Indiana State Library.

Written by (or at least attributed to) one of the best-known Black entertainers of the 1930s, orchestra leader at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club, the “Cat-ologue” is a legendary imprint which has called “the first dictionary published by a Black person”, though it is more accurately the first short lexicon of Black Jazz jargon, 100+ “quaint expressions” which would work their way into the general American vernacular, including  Boogie-Woogie (a new dance), corny (old fashioned, stale), freeby (no charge, gratis), gravy (profits), jitter bug (a swing fan), kopasetic (absolutely okay, the tops), mellow (all right, fine), ofay (white person), pad (bed), reefer (marijuana cigarette) skin (drums), yeah man (an exclamation of assent). This is the second of three printings (the last appeared in 1944 as the “language of jive”), all of which are highly collectible and increasingly difficult to find.
The accompanying “Swingformation” booklet is equally scarce, opening with Calloway’s tribute to the “jive” talk which had already been “absorbed” by “everyday” American language. The text is essentially a quiz, with questions testing the reader’s knowledge about “hep tags”, instruments, etiquette and “events in the world of jive”. There are also lists of American foreign Jazz magazines and the names of the musicians in Calloways own band, and a “Final Examination” (“Who originated ‘scat’ singing?”, “Give you definition of swing music in not more than 25 words’, etc.)

Lot Amendments

Some rippling to leaves of the Cat-ologue, staples oxidized, occasional creases and a few spots; very good.

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