Free content

Raiding history for clip art

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)


This is what I actually do with my life, so I have too many opinions to fit here. See sample libraries, musical corpora.


In descending order of addictiveness.

Internet public library book images

Internet archive book images on Flickr are my favourite and have an elegant origin story. The quirky and serendipitous search makes for amazing image finding.

They are my primary source of illustrations on this blog. For example, Jan David’s 1603 classic Christeliicken waerseggher images are wildly tripped out. Now that the Flickr page is gone, the book may be browsed here. AFAICT they have stopped updating Flickr though and you might need to read books for the latest ones.

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

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 Bilbliodessy, but with more scrupulous licensing. Annoyingly you usually can’t click through to the correct page in the source books.



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 No longer active, but still worth checking out.

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.


The Dutch Rijksmuseum is amazing, with high quality scans of lots of historical stuff. Of course it skews heavily, well, Dutch. But if your tastes skew heavily towards engravings and lithography of the 1600s and 1700s as do mine then … well the Dutch were doing a lot of that. My favourite starting collection is mysteries.

Google indices

Google arts and culture indexes some collections, including e.g. the Rijksmueum. The search function is inaccurate but serendipitous; I usually find something better than what I searched for.


Unsplash is community driven copyleft photos. Less classic archival stuff, more stock-photo replacement. This is occasionally what I want.


picryl is a paid service that indexes public domain images. High resolution images are pay-for-download and the rest are free. I could give them USD7/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. Annoyingly many images in the collection are not actually very high resolution so I need to use a reverse image search to find one regardless of whether I give them money or not.

Some of the other providers share their collections through Picryl - IIRC, NYPL does. The search function is good enough that it seems like value for money.

We could think of it as a pay-to-play substitute for the sadly lamented Internet Public Library Book Images project. The user interface has lots of licking through and mandatory tagging exercises and nagware, so it is a joyless experience compared to the


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

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 onces in there, e.g. Collection:19th Century American Trade Cards.

British Library collection

British Library collection 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.

Paris Museums

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


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


Books, pretty and/or interesting

Internet archive public library

One of the many wonderful features of the Internet Public Library is not its browsing page, which is a mess. I laboriously opted in to all the old (hopefully uncopyrighted) books by clicking checkboxes. Start from here to avoid disappointment.

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 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


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


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

Clip art and icons


  • 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.


  • 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.

No comments yet. Why not leave one?

GitHub-flavored Markdown & a sane subset of HTML is supported.