Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Shout-Out To Gutenberg Project

I've mentioned before that my father spent his whole career, apart from WW2 as an RNVR watch officer on convoy escorts, at Harrods, the iconic London department store. He even published a textbook on retail distribution. So I can't resist a shout-out to the amazing work of Eric Hutton and the volunteers of Project Gutenberg who, over the last 13 years, have scanned, OCR-ed and proof-read the entire Harrods catalog from 1912. Below the fold, the details.

Eric Hutton writes:

Putting Harrods for Everything through Distributed Proofreaders was a mammoth and long-running task, which started sometime in early 2007 with me scanning the original to produce a text that other DP volunteers could work on. While the books we work on sometimes have a few pages of advertisements, this project was ALL advertisements. Pages were split into three to five parts to make proofreading and checking easier. Three rounds of proofreading started in September 2007, and the project did not finish the first formatting round (F1) until March 2010. Fortunately, those volunteers who normally do second-round formatting (F2) were spared Harrods for Everything, as it really needed one person working on it (myself) to achieve a consistent format.

As the assigned post-processor, I worked behind the scenes from 2010 to 2014 preparing the 15,000+ illustrations, but there were long gaps when other commitments prevented me from working on it. I began officially post-processing the text in 2014, but again with many gaps in working on it. It went out for smooth reading (SR) in October 2019 (a round in which DP volunteers read through the project as for pleasure in order to spot remaining errors). It was finally released to Project Gutenberg on the 1st May 2020. Sincere thanks to all who worked on it!

Tip of the hat to Rob Beschizza, who writes:

The 1912 Harrods for Everything book is 1,525 pages long, illustrates more than 15,000 products, and was backed by a then cutting-edge logistics operation that included telephone ordering and home delivery by automobile van.

The catalogue is fascinating in its Amazon-like comprehensiveness and period detail.

In pre-WW2 London, Harrods was a delivery pioneer in many ways. The Montagu Collection at the Naional Motor Museum has one of the last Harrods electric delivery vans that were once a common sight on London's streets:

Harrods’ fleet of electric delivery vehicles were once a familiar sight on the streets of London. The famous department store started using American-built Walker electric vans in 1919. During the 1930s Harrods renewed the fleet, undertaking the design and construction in its own workshops. Work started in 1933 and a prototype van was running by 1935. A total of sixty vans were built up to 1939. The 1 ton vans were powered by under-floor mounted batteries giving a range of sixty miles per charge. This van remained in service until 1970 when it was presented to the Museum.

I remember seeing vans like this in action. And even in the 60s delivery was still an important part of the business. My brother and I were co-opted one Christmas Eve to drive from Knightsbridge to rural Norfolk with a turkey that had somehow missed its ride.

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