Lines and Colors art blog

British Library image trove

British Library image trove
The British Library has uploaded to Flickr over one million public domain images from 17th, 18th and 19th century books.

Starting next year, they will enlist the participation of the web in describing enough of the images to give the automated cataloguing systems a start. There is an article about the project here.

The images above were pulled from just the first two pages out of 10,200 pages of the Flickr set.

Most of the scans reflect the yellowing of the old paper, but those handy with image editing software can brighten these up considerably. Many of the images are fairly large.

For those unfamiliar with downloading images from Flickr: click to open the detail image, Control-click (Mac) or right-click (Win) and choose a size; then drag to your desktop. Alternately, click on the three dots at lower right on the detail page and choose “View all sizes”.

If you enjoy line art like I do, I’ll issue a Major Timesink Warning.

[Via BoingBoing]


12 responses to “British Library image trove”

  1. This is great that they are doing this. This will be so useful to many artists doing research.

  2. Wow, fantastic. But, as you say, timesink (first time I’ve heard that expression). I should be painting!

  3. The BBC, with Paul Martin’s Flog It! introduced me today to Elizabeth Meek. I hope you’re Interested.
    Meet Meek:


  4. I keep looking at that thing that alligator has in its mouth. It can’t be a hand because it has six fingers. What IS it? It’s such a wonderfully weird etching.

  5. Reincarnated Illustrator Avatar
    Reincarnated Illustrator

    As a reincarnated 17th century illustrator… can I still get royalties?

  6. Reincarnated Illustrator Avatar
    Reincarnated Illustrator

    Joking stuff aside… Wowie Zowie, thanks for the heads up Charlie, thats fantastic they are doing that. I love that time period of work. Cheers, Mike

  7. What is it precisely? A Gavialis or a Gharial?
    The partridge is trying to escape.

  8. #4: It should be the ring neck pheasant, not the partridge, but anyhow, I object to the hunting of all kinds of fowl.
    Picture #11 is therefore heartwarming.

  9. Please, say ‘No’ to Foie Gras:
    April 1912: The last dinner served on the Titanic was to include foie gras with celery. The foie gras would have been marinated, enhanced with truffles and baked en croute.
    I’m with Joachim Beukelaer.,1

  10. What I cannot understand is why the British Library are in effect handing over their digital archive, their publicly funded archive to a commercial enterprise in the form of Flickr/Yahoo. An enterprise that could well claim ownership/copyright on the images if they were so inclined. Why aren’t the BL not doing this themselves and perhaps raking back some much needed income. I find the rational for people to tag the images very dubious and of limited veracity.

    1. Understandable concerns, but I think I can answer them. These images, unless British copyright law is vastly more different from U.S. copyright law than I believe it to be, are in the public domain, and copyright cannot be claimed by anyone — not by the British Library or anyone else (regardless of who took the photographs or possesses the originals). Placing them on Flickr saves the BL the cost of storage and bandwidth to make them available on the web. The rationale of having the public tag them is not related to attribution, but simply recognizing content: this image contains a tree and pond, this one a carriage and horse, etc. This is simply to give the automated image recognition program, that will do the bulk of the cataloguing work, a start — like giving a voice recognition program a series of phrases and words to set it up.