Finding vintage images

Finding vintage images: a guide to 5 handy sources | Wolves in London

If you’ve visited me here at Wolves in London before (hello! if you haven’t, nice to meet you!) you’ll know I am a huge fan of beautiful old illustrations.

There is something so wonderfully evocative about a good vintage image. Perhaps it’s the delicate detail of some drawings that transports you back to a world of explorers and inventors and the collector’s drawer. Perhaps it’s the romance of a perfectly depicted rose. Or perhaps I’m just a sucker for good old fashioned nostalgia, which pictures like these have in abundance.

At any rate, I use vintage images all the time. From everything such as making my own wrapping paper or soap packaging, to weird lobster jewellery and even our wedding invitations and wedding favours.

(I have plans in the pipeline to open an Etsy shop soon, selling babygrows and T-shirts with some of my favourite images on the front. Watch this space to see if I can get off my arse and do it…)

In the meantime, it occurred to me that it might be useful to share some of the websites I use to find all those wonderful vintage pictures in the first place.

Here, then, are my five favourite blogs and websites that catalogue hundreds of copyright free vintage images:

1. The Graphics Fairy

Vintage pears
Vintage pears found on the Graphics Fairy site

If I’m looking for a new image, the Graphics Fairy blog is inevitably the first place I visit.

Completely eclectic, the website is packed with a phenomenal range of images in loads of different styles of loads of different subjects. You can run a search to find images of specific things, but it’s much more fun to just lose yourself for hours browsing the different categories.

All images are copyright free and fine to use both for your own use or to sell commercially…

Especially good for:

Everything! This really is my number one site. Great for black and white images as well as colour. There’s also a host of reader’s projects (my lobster necklace was once featured here) as well as hints, tips and DIYs if you’re looking for inspiration with what to do with all this fabulous imagery.

 Projects I’ve made:

DIY advent calendar
Vintage images advent calendar

Most of my projects use Graphics Fairy images somewhere or other. My vintage advent calendar was made entirely with images I’d found here.

2. Vintage Printable

Ladybirds from Vintage Printable
Ladybirds from Vintage Printable

I’ve got to say, I always find Vintage Printable a little frustrating to navigate, but persevere for it is definitely worth it for some of the wonderfully weird things you can find. I especially love the illustrations of collections, like the ladybirds above. This is definitely a site for browsing and wondering what amazing thing you’ll stumble across, rather than one for carrying out specific searches.

Especially good for:

Plates from books, colour images and unusual things you wouldn’t find elsewhere.

Projects I’ve made:

Homemade hat wrapping paper
Not a great photo, but I still think this wrapping paper is better than loads you can buy…

The hat print is one of my favourite images I’ve ever come across, which I used as an envelope liner for my homeprinted book plates and again for my home printed wrapping paper.

3. Clip Art Etc

Boarfish illustration
The boarfish! From Clip Art Etc

Looking for some weird and wonderful old-fashioned black and white images of animals or fish? Look no further! I scour this site — set up as an educational resource for the university of South Florida — on a regular basis. The images are available copyright free and you can use them for any personal projects without charge. If you want to use them for anything commercial, you can pay a one off fee that allows you to reproduce the image as many times as you like and in any way you like…

They also run the equally wonderful Maps Etc, which has hundreds of historic maps.

Especially good for:

Clip Art, obviously. All line-drawn black and white illustrations. The animals and plants sections are my favourite, but there are some great quirky scientific images as well.

Projects I’ve made:

Homeprinted babygrow
Modelled by the sproglet in his younger days

I love the carrot illustration that I used in the babygrow I made the sproglet.

4. Botanicus

Orange botanical vintage image
Oranges from Botanicus

Botanicus is a new one for me, and I am yet to fully explore everything inside the site. Another one that is pretty difficult to navigate, but the website contains complete editions of lots of antique botanical books, including the plates — which is where you find the wonderful images.

To find your way around, you need to select the book you want (choosing by title or author) and then take a look on the left hand side in the box called “pages” — click on ones that say “plate” or “illustration.”  A good starting place is Koehler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, the book that contains this orange illustration above.

It’s also slightly complicated to figure out how to download the images. On the right hand side of the image is a box full of arrows, to help you scroll around and zoom the image. Click on the one that looks like this: ↓ and then right click on the image to save.

It’s a bit of a faff, yes, but it is worth it for some of the illustrations, which are truly stunning.

Especially good for:

Er, botanicals!

Projects I’ve made:

None, so far, but once I’ve explored the site a bit more, I have a feeling you’ll be seeing a lot more vintage botanical prints from here in future projects.

I also think these would all look wonderful printed and framed for the wall, so once we’ve finally decorated the house I plan on festooning the walls with some of these images.

5. Old Book Illustrations

Vintage bird image
Image from Old Book Illustrations

Oh I truly love this site! Old Book Illustrations is nowhere near as extensive as the others, containing only a few categories with a few choice images in each one. But the images themselves are, without fail, stunning and stunningly quirky. And, as you might have noticed, I love me a bit of quirk.

The site says that all images are copyright free and can be used for personal or commercial purposes.

Especially good for:

Black and white images. Once again, the animals and plants categories are my favourites. The French subtitles to the images make them especially appealing to me…

Projects I’ve made:

Screen print acetate
F is for fish

The smelt (a fish, doncha know) that I used in my F is for Fish screen printing attempts last year was from Old Book Illustrations. I loved it so much, I used it again on some of my Spoonflower fabric.

And that’s it! My five favourite sites. I hope it helps if you’re on the search for an old graphic anytime soon.

And if you think there are some amazing ones that I’ve missed off, please do drop me a note in the comments. I always love to add to the list…

Related articles:

  • I pin all my favourite images over on my Free Graphics board on Pinterest, so if you can’t be bothered to trawl all these sites yourself, just follow me over there for my pick of the bunch!
Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Finding vintage images

  1. I love this post! I’m a bit of a collector of vintage illustrations myself, I really should put some in frames. I’m off to have a good nose around the websites you’ve mentioned, goodbye evening 😉

Leave your comment here... (I love a comment!)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s