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Raiding history for clip art

August 31, 2014 — November 8, 2023

making things
photon choreography
Figure 1

Are you an inveterate remixer? Do you have a taste for collage? A blog you wish to illustrate with public domain images?

Here I note repositories of legally available content for remixing and mashing up. (Check for remix rights in your local jurisdiction, I ain’t no lawyer)

1 Audio

This is a major passion of mine, so I have too many opinions about it to fit under a subheading. See sample libraries, musical corpora.

2 Images

In descending order of addictiveness.

2.1 Rijksmuseum

The Dutch Rijksmuseum is amazing, with high quality scans of lots of historical stuff. Of course it skews heavily, well, Dutch. But if you have a taste for engravings and lithography of the 1600s and 1700s then … well the Dutch were doing a lot of that.

This is my current favourite. The Rijksmuseum is incredibly generous with their high-resolution scans, and the search is really good. It includes some non-Dutch stuff but… well maybe if I can’t find a Dutch engraving to illustrate what I want then I should change topic.

A great starting collection to give the flavour is mysteries or Weird stuff, or the collection of my own bookmarks.

Pro-tip: searching is better if I translate search terms into Dutch, and use the Advanced search.

2.2 Internet public library books

The internet public library is a trove of books, in delicious high resolution downloadable formats. Unfortunately they are hard to search for images.

I still use them if I know what I am looking for; For example, I found Blanchard/Duncan (Duncan and Blanchard 1870) that way, and

For a while there, we had a great flickr index to the images, but they arsed it up.

2.2.1 On Flickr

UPDATE: ⚠️ This account was deleted without warning, all the content and annotations are gone, and the internet is a poorer place 🪦.

UPDATE 2: Account reinstated.

UPDATE 3: ⚠️ Links work again but search is broken in Flickr and it does not seem likely they will fix it — the outage has lasted more than a year. This is still a shambles.

Internet archive book images on Flickr are were my favourite thing on the internet. They have an elegant origin story. The quirky and serendipitous search makes for amazing image finding. (update: search no longer quirky or serendipitous, simply broken, see above.)

They are were my primary source of illustrations on this blog. For example, Jan David’s 1603 classic Christeliicken waerseggher images are wildly tripped out. (IPL link.) AFAICT the Internet Public Library have stopped updating Flickr with new images; for anything more recently digitised, we must scrape the images manually from the source books.

Also the Flickr service has been unreliable, so they lost my trust as a provider. I have removed many links to their site and now I use Picryl or Rijksmuseum instead.

2.3 Public Domain Review

The Public Domain Review

Founded in 2011, The Public Domain Review is an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas.

Similar to Bibliodessy, but with more scrupulous licensing. Annoyingly I usually can’t click through to the correct page in the source books. It would have been an easy and pro-social feature for them to add.


They create merch!

2.4 Bibliodessy

Paul K a.k.a. Bibliodessy used to lovingly hand-curate classic book images. Peking opera figures? Baltic Heraldry? The Astrolabe Molluscs? No longer active, but still worth checking out.

2.5 Emblem project

If your tastes are very specific, about weird, allegorical proto-comics from the 1600s, the Emblem Project Utrecht has you covered. Has us covered, I should say.

2.6 Google indices

Google arts and culture indexes some collections, including e.g. the Rijksmueum. The search function is somehow just not very joyful for me to use. It finds nice artworks about the topic I put in, but never anything weird or niche or startling.

2.7 Unsplash

Unsplash is community driven copyleft photos. Less classic archival stuff, more stock-photo replacement. This is occasionally what I want, and even if not I usually learn something cool about a landscape I never saw before.

2.8 Picryl

picryl is a service that indexes public domain images. High resolution images are pay-for-download and the rest are free. I could give them USD25/month for the high-resolution or I could use their search index and then use a reverse image search such as tineye to find a higher resolution version. Occasionally that way I find one that is higher resolution than even the paid-for picryl copy.

The search function is reasonably good. The UX is rough in spots — don’t get me started on their horrible date range selector. When downloading images I need to click through a remarkable number of things, and do some mandatory tagging. Maybe that goes away if I pay?

We could think of it as a pay-to-play substitute for the sadly lamented Internet Public Library Book Images Flickr project. I cannot quite justify paying their monthly rate yet (I pay for SO MANY SERVICES), but we shall see if they wear me down.

2.9 Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Institution images were a high profile open access launch. Have not tested them in practice.

2.10 Digital Commonwealth

Digital Commonwealth is a non-profit collaborative organization, founded in 2006, that provides resources and services to support the creation, management, and dissemination of cultural heritage materials held by Massachusetts libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives. Digital Commonwealth currently has over 200 member institutions from across the state.

This site, managed by the Boston Public Library, provides access to thousands of images, documents, and sound recordings that have been digitized by member institutions so that they may be available to researchers, students, and the general public.

Some really nice ones in there, e.g. 19th Century American Trade Cards.

2.11 British Library collection

British Library collection on Flickr is useful if a little straight-laced. They had a conservative collection policy, or a conservative upload policy. It’s hard to find lurid, prurient, or provocative images, but there are some very beautiful and edifying ones, if that is your thing. However it is much better than the non-Flickr BL digital collections, with their tedious download process, much red-tap around usage rights, high fees and a generally mean-spirited, stingy approach to the public domain. Generally if you want something cool from the British Library, you are better off seeing if the internet public library has it, or the Rijksmuseum, or the Smithsonian, or the Met,a nd you will save time and also get a higher quality image for free.

2.12 Paris Museums

Art! Art! Art! Paris Musées have 100000 artworks for use apparently.

2.13 Metmuseum

Metmuseum Open Access has a 400,000-strong open access public domain art image collection. Resolution tends to be low. Photographs are professional, though.

2.14 Incoming

Figure 2: Business town says buy this.

2.15 Currently obsessing over

3 Books, pretty and/or interesting

3.1 Internet archive public library

I miss the Flickr companion, but the IPL main page is not terrible. One of the many wonderful features of the Internet Public Library is not its browsing page, which is a mess. I laboriously found the old-enough-to-be-hopefully-uncopyrighted books by clicking dozens of checkboxes. Start from here to avoid disappointment.

3.2 Wellcome library

Great content, but not always a great online-first experience.

Thousands of items from our collections have been digitised, and copies are freely accessible online. Our digital collections cover a wide variety of topics, and are particularly strong in the areas of mental health, sex and sexual health, genetics, public health, and 19th-century books.

If you’re a member of the library, you also have access to many of our subscription databases and resources with your library card.

Digitised materials from our collections can be accessed and downloaded for use under a variety of Creative Commons non-commercial, attribution and Public Domain licences, depending on the material.

You can find all our digital items in the catalogue. An option to limit your search to online material appears once you have entered a search term. You can also search for digital images in the “Images” tab on the catalogue

3.3 Erara

erara the incredible library of ultra-high-resolution lovingly digitised manuscripts and prints.

3.4 viaLibri

viaLibri is a search engine for actual physical books. It sometimes includes lavish high-resolution previews. Try, e.g., Rare books from 1621.

3.5 Heath Robinson online!

Not a collection per se, rather, an obsession of mine.

4 Textbooks

5 Clip art and icons

6 3d models

7 Film

  • World’s cinema has copies of many art-house films. Provenance unclear and thus suspect.
  • content on torrent aggregators like,,, and is not necessarily going to be violating copyright, but in practice, 90% of the content one finds there will be in violation, and it is best to steer clear if you wish to be safe from committing copyright violations.

8 General

  • Open Culture tracks “675 Free Movies, 550 Free Audio Books, 600 Free eBooks, 170 Free Textbooks, 300 Free Language Lessons…”. AFAICT everything here is legit but once again, be careful and check the laws in your jurisdiction.

9 References