Japanese dancers from page 73 of “Letters from the Land of the Rising Sun”, 1894

Think of it.  One million historic pictures to use and adapt however you want.

That’s the goal of British Library Labs, an initiative within the British Library.  On their website, they describe their mission as “guarantee[ing] that the wealth and diversity of the Library’s intellectual digital heritage is available for the research, creativity and fulfilment of everyone.”


A comedic advertisement for glue from page 284 of “Monsieur At Home”, 1885

To accomplish this, the British Library posts a variety of images to their tumblr page.  Every day, more pictures are scanned and added from the library’s collection of books.  To see new entries hourly, you can follow their Twitter bot dubbed the “Mechanical Curator”.


A man surprises his love on page 53 of “The Quiver of Love. A collection

of Valentines ancient and modern by W. Crane and Kate Greenaway”, 1876

Besides the visual interest in perusing the catalog, there is also the benefit that every picture is copyright-free.  That means you can download any and all of their images to use and edit however you like.


A comparison of Cleopatra’s Needle and Pompey’s Column on page 615

of “The Manners and Customs of all nations”, 1827.

Whether it’s for a personal project or a commercial business, anything is fair game.  Personally, I look forward to using them as reference pictures for any number of future projects.  It might also be fun to play around with some of them in Photoshop.


A sheet of piano music for a Polish dance song on page 409 from “”Letters literary and political

Poland; comprising observations on Russia and other Sclavonian nations and tribes.

[With an appendix and “specimens of music.” By K. Lach-Szyrma.]”, 1823

Conveniently, the collection is grouped into albums, or categories, like Flora, Book Covers, Heraldry, and Portraits, just to name a few.  There are also thousands of maps which are all interesting to look at.


A German (I think) map on page 83 of “Heiṃatkunde von Steyr, etc”, 1893

The collection as a whole is fascinating.  It truly feels like a time capsule, with little bits gathered from past few centuries.  There are also images depicting a variety of cultures, making the assortment even more meaningful.  Many thanks to the British Library for sharing these one million (and growing) peeks into their massive collection!

Have you checked out the pictures?  Did you have any favorites?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

About ZeldaCroft

I'm a writer, artist, YouTuber, blogger, and musician. I love creating stories and art, playing the piano, and singing along to Broadway musicals. Follow my blog for all things art!

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