Saturday, February 25, 2017

Print on demand catalog of the coins of Troas

I recently purchased a Print on Demand copy of Warwick Wroths 1894 catalog of the British Museum collection Catalogue of the Greek Coins of Troas, Aeolis, and Lesbos.

Google scanned three copies of this book: from the University of Michigan, from the New York Public Library, and from Harvard

The Harvard copy doesn’t seem to show up in an ordinary Google Book search. I found it using this link:

Public domain books that have been scanned by Google can be printed on demand. To order online, just bring up the book in Google Books, click “Get this book in print” and “On Demand Books” and several vendors appear. I wanted to see an Espresso Book Machine in action. There is one at the McNally Jackson bookstore in Manhattan. So I went down there, armed with the title.

The machines aren’t self serve. I gave the operator my title, and he brought up the University of Michigan Copy. I had hoped to see it printed but the machine apparently takes a while to download the book. It downloaded overnight and the operator printed it the next morning. I was surprised to find I had received Harvard’s copy.

The problem with getting a different copy than expected is that Google’s 2008-9 analysis did a poor job of distinguishing photo plates from line art. For numismatic books this is a problem. If the Google book preview shows a coin “posterized” the print on demand copies print it as a black blob. Luckily Harvard's copy is better than the U of M's.

Here are three copies of plate 8. On Harvard and the NYPL’s copy, coins #1, #2, #18, #19 and the reverse of #22 are shown greyscale. On the U of M’s copy, none of the coins are shown greyscale. They all appear as “posterized” four color art.

The “posterized” coins appear as black blobs when the Book Machine prints them. I am not certain this is the fault of the book machine. It is unfortunate that there is no way to supply feedback to Google books that a page or part of a page is greyscale artwork.

There is also no way to specify that the printed size of the page is meaningful. This is not a huge problem for the BMC volumes, which originally appeared the similar in size to what the Espresso Book Machine prints.

I paid $17 plus tax for this volume. For comparison, the hardcover decent plate Italian edition by Forni from the 1960s can be found used for $50, with other copies selling for more. The original version can sometimes be found at auction for $150+.

Many years ago I wanted to get folks with original BMC volumes to scan the plates. I had hoped to assemble a plates-only PDF. I managed to scan a few volumes myself but was not able to get the needed volumes and the project fell through. Perhaps with the British Museum putting their collection online the need for this has passed?