The Marginalian
The Marginalian

From Old Books: Heaven for the Visual Bibliophile

Thanks to the tireless curators behind brilliant sites such as 50 Watts, BibliOdyssey, Paleofuture, and How to Be a Retronaut, to name just a few of the Internet’s treasure troves, we now have collections of archival material that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago.

A newcomer to this stable of gems, From Old Books is similarly fueled by an individual’s passion for preserving graphics, and so also the culture, of bygone eras. Its creator, a British web developer named Liam Quin, has assembled a stellar selection of over 3,000 images from — and of — more than 180 rare antique books.

From fantastically creepy momento mori, to beautiful children’s book illustrations, and enough examples of typography that you could take up whole days just browsing, From Old Books is a fantastic place to look for royalty-free inspiration. We’ve gathered a small handful of the site’s weird and wonderful objects for your viewing pleasure.

Armillary Sphere
From Ebenezer Sibly’s Astrology: A New and Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences (1806)

I have subjoined a plate of the Armillary Sphere, which is an artificial contrivance, representing the several circles proper to the theory of the mundane world, put together in their natural order, to ease and assist the imagination in conceiving the constitution of the spheres, and the vairous phenomena of the celestial bodies. For this purpose the Earth is placed at the center, pierced by a line supposed to be its axis”

Strange Machine
From T. Antisell’s Handbook of the Useful Arts (1852)
Hour Glass
From William Andrews’s Curiosities of the Church: Studies of Curious Customs, Services and Records (1891)

Of the few remaining specimens of the hour-glass, a fine one is preserved in the church of St. Alban’s Wood Street, London. It is mounted on a spiral column near the pulpit, and the minister can conveniently reach it when preaching.”

Machines for Boring Holes in Castle Walls
From Charles Knight’s Old England: A Pictorial Museum (1845)
From Sydney F. Walker’s Electric Lighting for Marine Engineers (1892)

It will be understood, of course, that there should be an ampère meter on each circuit, so that the engineer can see what is going on. This, however, is not always done. In many “tramps” not even one ampère meter is to be found.”

The Sun Typewriter
Advertisement from Charles Scribner’s Scribner’s Magazine No. 11 (1903)

Enjoy more gems on From Old Books — but don’t say we didn’t warn you: bibliophilia takes hold quickly, and as far as we know, there’s no cure.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

Published July 13, 2011




Filed Under

View Full Site

The Marginalian participates in the and affiliate programs, designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to books. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book from a link here, I receive a small percentage of its price, which goes straight back into my own colossal biblioexpenses. Privacy policy. (TLDR: You're safe — there are no nefarious "third parties" lurking on my watch or shedding crumbs of the "cookies" the rest of the internet uses.)