Delightful Finds From Internet Archive Book Images


There’s a new Flickr account called Internet Archive Book Images. These are public domain images from books that have been digitized for posterity.

A Yahoo research fellow at Georgetown University, Kalev Leetaru, extracted over 14 million images from 2 million Internet Archive public domain eBooks that span over 500 years of content. Because we have OCR’d the books, we have now been able to attach about 500 words before and after each image. This means you can now see, click and read about each image in the collection. Think full-text search of images!

So far, there are about 2.6 million images to browse, with more being added every day. That sounds like a lot to take in, but the account is searchable. I thought it would be fun to enter some search terms to see what comes up.

Politician: This old comic says more about economics and capitalism than about any particular politician. It’s from a 1912 issue of Baltimore and Ohio employees magazine.

Airplane: According to the Flickr page, this huge airplane picture is from an 1890 issue of The literary digest. I think there may have been a mistake in the date, because the accompanying text says,

HE TRACKLESS WILDERNESS WILL YIELD ITS FRUITS AND ORES TO THESE GIANT PLANES. TO-MORROWS AIR-TRAVEL THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, inspirational, and senace-able of mans inventions will shortly be whoUy atmans service, carrying mails, freight, and passengersfor long distances at incredible speed, exploring wildernesses,surveying and mapping continents and oceans—doing a scoreof things that no vehicle hitherto at our disposal has been ableto effect. Already we are carrying our mails by airplane anddoing some other kinds of transportation. In Europe at leastone aerial ambulance is at work, and in places the airplane ismaintaining a fire-patrol in, or rather above, forest areas.

Sex: I had to laugh at this image. There is plenty to see under this search term, but right in the middle is an illustration about how to prevent bar patrons from groping the waitresses. It’s from the 1905 French book Images galantes et esprit de l'etranger: Berlin, Munich, Vienne, Turin, Londres.

Drugs: I couldn’t get past this illustration of chocolate worm cakes. It’s from the 1889 volume of The Canadian druggist. They supposedly contain Calomel, Jalap, and Santonine. Since chocolate is not mentioned as an ingredient, you have to wonder whether they contain either chocolate or worms, or both.

College: Right at the top of the search results is a drawing that contrasts the “eggheads” and the “jocks.” The dichotomy has been around a long time. This is from the Haverford College Athletic Annual and 1900 Class book of 1900.

Vacation: It has nothing to do with a vacation, but that’s where I found this picture of something to eat. It was included in the 1896 publication The Boston Cooking School magazine of culinary science and domestic economics. The description reads:

Chicken Salad Masked with Mayonnaise, Covered with Capers, Chopped White of Egg and Diamonds of Pickled Beet Border of Celery Leaves and Curled Celery Seasonable Recipes By Janet M.

Why would you want to mask a chicken? This sounds like everything for dinner piled on one plate.

Cat: This alarming image comes from a volume identified as Goethe's works. The man with the cat between his legs is a priest.

Education: The act of trying to stuff our heads with things. This illustration is from the 1872 book Education: its elementary principles, founded on the nature of man.

Cowboy: Under this search term, a photograph of the women of the University of Wyoming came up. They are from the 1911 edition of Wyo, the school’s yearbook. This was taken on Washington’s Birthday, at a late Valentine’s Day dance. The term “cowboy” was from a previous picture.

Mental floss: The image that came up is from the 1905 book Fancy work for pleasure and profit. That’s a pleasant image.

I could do this all day. If you find yourself searching through Internet Archive Book Images, set yourself a time limit or you might find it hard to stop.