The Google That Time Forgot

atkins-bookshelf-booksBefore there was Google the search engine there was the Google, a fantastic nocturnal creature (a cross between a huggable Maurice Sendak and creepy Tim Burton caricature) that lives in a pond and guards the beautiful exotic birds that live in its enchanting garden: “Far! Far away, the Google lives, in a land which only children can go to. It’s a wonderful land full of funny flowers, and birds, and hills of pure white heather. The Google has a beautiful garden which is guarded day and night.” Just like the Google, the birds have interesting names: the Swank, the Lesser Nockit, the Lemonsqueezer, the Blue-billed Ork, the Poggle, and the Soft-nosed Wollop.

The surreal world of the Google and its birds sprang from the vivid imagination of Vincent Cartwright Vickers (then 34 years old), who was by day a deputy lieutenant of the City of London, an economist, and director of the Bank of England, and by night a children’s book writer and illustrator (and you thought all bureaucrats were dull!). Being a fellow of the Royal Zoological Society, Vickers was fond of animals, especially exotic birds. The book, aptly titled The Google Book, featuring exotic birds was published in London, England in 1913. Only 100 copies of the books were printed. Although Oxford University Press published a short-run second edition in 1979, the book remains as elusive as, um, well, a Soft-nosed Wollop.

When Sergey Brin and Larry Page were brainstorming names for their search engine back in 1997 (initially it was called “BackRub” — go figure), they had never googled The Google Book — they were oblivious to the Google’s existence. Had Google the search engine been named after Vickers’s creature — now that would be quite a story! Or how about being named after one of the Google’s birds — Nockit, or Poggle? Nevertheless, the inspiration for the search engine’s name is less fantastic and more mundane — it is a phonetic spelling of the word googol (the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes).

Although largely forgotten by time and Google (the corporation), The Goggle Book has not been forgotten by bibliophiles who lust after rare, unusual books. If you google The Google Book, you will learn that a first edition is now worth $5,000. And that would make the Google very happy indeed.

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