Google Books Goofed

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. —Hunter S. Thompson

I’ve recently been researching Old English measures, and found that the ability of Google’s search engine to do a plain-text search on everything they’ve scanned into Google Books / the Google Library Project has been a phenomenal aid in ferreting out lost knowledge that shouldn’t be so obscure that until today, every Wikipedia entry on the pound Sterling said its weight had always been different from the Tower Pound.

Awesome that Google let me discover that!

However, when I wanted to read the rest of the story, so that I could accurately update Wikipedia, Google failed me completely. The low resolution at which they scanned A View of the Silver Coin and Coinage of England is so pitifully low that you cannot decipher many of the composed fractions. For this book, published in 1762, copyright hasn’t been an issue for many years. A few, such as ½ and ¼ vary from somewhat decipherable (though not in all instances, and usually because I already knew the value from another source, as on page 4), to not quite decipherable (several of those on page 13; is that 5 5⁄8 grains or 5 5⁄8 grains or 5 3⁄9 grains?), but once you get to the fractions on page 14 and 15, there’s no chance of deciphering those without access to the original document. And heaven help you if the composed fractions (which are by definition substantially smaller than the surrounding characters) are in a footnote, whose text size is already smaller than the standard text.

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