The Elizabethans were doing ASCII sorting

One of the oddities of Elizabethan publishing, which I have
retained in my transcriptions of Elizabethan music, is that they
write roman numerals differently from the way your clock does.

Specifically, your clock writes “4” as “IV”, that is, one
subtracted from 5. The Elizabethans didn’t do that — they
wrote “IIII”, and similarly “VIIII” for “9” and “XVIIII” for

There turns out to be a major advantage to this for computer
sorting — if you don’t go up past 50, the ascii roman numeral
sort ends up in numeric order. If you were to sort the digits
on a clock in ascii, you would end up with “IX” coming before
“VIII”, but in the Elizabethan coding, “VIII”, “VIIII”, and “X”
come out in the right order (unlike “8”, “9”, and “10”).

I was thinking I might have to write some code to get the
pieces in the right order, but a typical Elizabethan music book
has 20 or 21 pieces in it, so using their roman numerals, I can
just tell mysql to “order by” and everything just works!

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