Public Domain Use Victorian Era/Victorian-esque Art?
July 8, 2014 3:30 PM   Subscribe

Hear me out before you say "Just google it" -- I do plenty of google-shopping for images and generally find low-res crappy images that are not necessarily what I'm looking for. I am looking for Victorian/19th century images. They must be high resolution and they are preferably in the public domain. I plan on using them for mixed media collages -- mostly just for myself and friends/gifts and not for profit, however, I've been offered space in an art booth and I may end up using images for commercial gain. More details behind the cut.

I have found a few that were questionable. I wish I could say to a T what I'm looking for here, however, I'm not necessarily sure since it's just a picture in my head. I really enjoy old advertisements, old wedding photos, and also old illustrations. Many of the best illustrations I've seen have been in old now-defunct journals. The biggest problem is that I don't know how many of these still have a copyright and many of them are low-res and therefore not suitable to print for my purposes. While it's a different era, I'm also obsessed with Art Deco to give you further ideas. I would prefer to get these for free, however, if there are good mass amounts of images, depending on what I can find, I may be willing to put funding towards it. Obviously with a collage I'm essentially mashing up multiple images. Any kind of advice you can give me on how to better find what I'm looking for would be fantastic, because again, my Google search is no longer cutting it.

So I'm specifically again looking for:

=advice on public domain: if you're selling collage items on things like Etsy, how do you handle this? As a side note, I see many sellers at art fairs that are selling those hollowed books -- how is it this is legal and yet I can't use a small portion of an image for a collage?
=Resources, such as websites, what exactly I should be searching for (perhaps free domain image search engines??), books, anything that may help aid me.
= I've also purchased some antique books and magazines in the past for this use, but I feel horrible tearing up these and most of them are so brittle that unless I scan them and use them that way, they tear too easily.
posted by camylanded to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I believe Dover Publications may sell books and CDs of these.
posted by Madamina at 3:32 PM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you need to search for public domain Victorian clip art. When I did, I found a number of sites with various resolutions, illustrations, etc..
Old Book Illustrations
Chronically Vintage
Vintage Printable
posted by Ideefixe at 3:35 PM on July 8, 2014

The Dover Bookshop. USA site.
posted by glasseyes at 3:40 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

And here is a gorgeous one. The images are generally copyright free up to a point.
posted by glasseyes at 3:43 PM on July 8, 2014

Response by poster: Yes, I am aware of Dover, but thanks for that tip! If someone has specific Dover book/CD combos in this specific subject that they've enjoyed, I'm all ears...
posted by camylanded at 3:43 PM on July 8, 2014 has a lot. In particular, the users j4p4n and johnny_automatic have made a lot, among others. Everything on the site is public domain.
posted by wintersweet at 3:44 PM on July 8, 2014

You mean The Graphics Fairy?
posted by jrobin276 at 3:52 PM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

You could probably find some good stuff at the British Library's flickr account, which contains over a million public-domain images free for uses including commercial use, and many of which are high-resolution.
posted by kickingthecrap at 3:55 PM on July 8, 2014

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division has a lot of digitized images.

Also the New York Public Library digital collections has a lot of good stuff.

Public Domain Review has links to good collections.

And here is a chart of what is in the public domain.
posted by interplanetjanet at 4:12 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

We have these, which come in handy for various things: and for good measure: I think most if not all Dover clip art collections have a blurb in the front that basically says "Free for use without restriction, provided you use no more than 10 pieces in any one project. For permission for additional use write to Dover at etc. etc." (I've always assumed the limit of 10 is to prevent people from just photocopying the whole thing and selling their own clip art books.)
posted by usonian at 4:13 PM on July 8, 2014

If you are in the US, the rule of thumb is that anything published in 1922 or earlier is in the public domain. By definition all Victorian-era published work is covered by that.

Some later things are public domain as well, but that's a bit trickier to determine.

"As a side note, I see many sellers at art fairs that are selling those hollowed books -- how is it this is legal" -- I don't know why it wouldn't be, unless I'm misunderstanding which books you mean. They are selling the actual object, just as if they sold you the book at a used book store.
posted by litlnemo at 4:15 PM on July 8, 2014

Oh, and since you also mentioned Art Deco:
posted by usonian at 4:17 PM on July 8, 2014

"I've also purchased some antique books and magazines in the past for this use, but I feel horrible tearing up these and most of them are so brittle that unless I scan them and use them that way, they tear too easily."

Yeah, I do art journal stuff and have the same issue sometimes. I usually copy the art and use the copy, keeping the original intact. There are fewer and fewer antique magazines left in the world... I don't think I should cause the number to go down, even if I myself don't need the magazine for anything other than collage. (As a history researcher there are many things that I find in old magazines that other people might not care about.)
posted by litlnemo at 4:19 PM on July 8, 2014

Already mentioned by interplanetjanet, Library of Congress is my first stop for public domain art. I find the "Gallery" view the easiest to use, and be sure to click "Larger image available anywhere"

Periodical illustrations--American.
John Held, Jr.
posted by fings at 9:07 PM on July 8, 2014

Fellow collage artist here, Dover is great, I've built up a big library over the years, but yeah, you've gotta sort through them - they have a lot.

The Graphics Fairy as mentioned above is great and free, I also find that I use this site quite frequently (but they are all black and white engravings).
posted by sarajane at 2:20 PM on July 9, 2014

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