25 treasures from the public domain

Throughout the month of February, I thought it would be fun to share something cool from the public domain each day. I didn’t quite hit all 28 days—here and there I’d go a little too long without getting to my computer—but I ended up with a collection of really cool things.

I shared them on Twitter with the hashtag #pdtotd, which I imagined stood for “public domain thing of the day,” but I never explained what I was doing. My friend Zara took a look at it and guessed it actually stood for  “public domain treasure of the day,” which seems like a better fit. Here are some of the things I shared.

1. Images from the New York World-Telegram & Sun


The NY W-T&S dedicated a collection of photos to the public domain, including portraits of civil rights leaders like Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This seemed like an appropriate way to kick off Black History Month.

2. Extinct Birds (1907)


Beautiful pictures of birds already extinct over a century ago, scanned by the Internet Archive and hosted on Flickr.

3. Anti-Suffrage postcards


As I tweeted, the early 20th-century anti-Suffrage movement had “strong misandry game”. These historical postcards are interesting artifacts and freely available.

4. Highlights from the New York Public Library’s maps collection


NYPL has put some 20,000 maps online, with no known restrictions. The Public Domain Review, which I consulted a few times throughout this project, picked out some highlights.

5. NASA’s Apollo sounds

Original audio from NASA missions, including the famous “Houston, we’ve had a problem” and of course “One small step for man.”

6. Fundamentals of Rural Surveillance (1993)


The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center made this somewhat dated PSA on rural surveillance tactics, which I found as part of the Fedflix collection.

7. Kunstformen der Natur (1904)


Beautiful illustrations from Ernst Haeckel’s book on natural forms. All available in high resolution from the Wikimedia Commons.

8. Unsplash photos


Every 10 days, Unsplash releases 10 new high quality, high-res photos into the public domain. They’ve been doing it for almost two years now, and have quite a collection.

9. Landsat8 satellite photos


The Landsat photos of Earth show remarkable natural landscapes from above. Charlie Loyd has built an interface to view the latest photos.

10. The Video Cellar

The Video Cellar collects movies that have fallen into the public domain or that were never subject to copyright restrictions, as a popular YouTube channel.

11. 3D stereograms of Neanderthal skulls


One of the finds from the Public Domain Review’s excellent essay collection, the story behind the GIFs is even more impressive than the images themselves.

12. Fantasmagori (1908)


This is probably the first ever animated film, and it’s delightfully silly and strange. It wouldn’t take much to make this feel very modern and new.

13. Animal sounds from the Tierstimmenarchiv

The Berlin Natural History Museum has an animal sounds archive posted online, with 600 sounds from a wide variety of animals. Some are very mundane, but many are quite exotic. (h/t to Zara on this one.)

14. Emblems of Love in Four Languages (1683)


A book full of pictures of Cupid, etc, posted on Valentine’s Day.

15. Thomas Edison’s patent illustrations


Thomas Edison’s patents were bound together in a book, which was scanned many years later by the Internet Archive. The illustrations are quite striking.

16. Early US currency


The $20 bill has looked about the same throughout my entire life, but it went through some really significant changes 150 years ago.

17. DOT pictograms


Developed in 1974, these images are now a standard visual language. As with most standards, it works better when it’s free for everybody to use.

18. The USDA’s Pomological Watercolor Collection


Over 7,500 watercolors from around the turn of the 20th century, depicting various species of fruits and nuts, and commissioned for the US government. This is an amazing collection.

19. Tokaido Gojusan-eki Hachiyama Edyu, 1848


From the National Agricultural Library’s special collection comes this 1848 book of illustrations of full-size scenes and dwarf potted plants.

20. Screenshots of the Superfish vulnerability


In order to get legitimate information out about this security vulnerability as quickly as possible, @ErrataRob committed his screenshots to the public domain so journalists writing on deadline wouldn’t have to worry about getting in touch for permission.

21. Alex Wild’s insect shots


Alex Wild does all sorts of insect photography, and has a small collection of impressive shots he’s committed to the public domain.

22. Free Music Archive’s Revitalize Music Contest entries

All of the entries to this contest are new covers of public domain tunes. Entrants were required to release their new recordings into the public domain as well.

23. “Cabinet Cards” from the Houghton Library


Harvard’s Houghton Library has a wacky set of images from the theater collection’s 100,000+ cabinet cards. Some of the highlights are up at the Public Domain Review.

24. The Fleischer Superman cartoons

The 1940s Superman cartoons made at the Fleischer and Famous studios are classics in the genre.

25. Birds of America from the Audubon Society


The Audubon Society has put high quality scans of prints from its namesake John James Audubon’s book “Birds of America” online.


  1. Posted 2 April, 2015 at 19:18 | Permalink

    Excellent collection, sir! And very timely, for me. I’m planning on mentioning the New York World Telegram collection in a blog post I’m working on. I’m digging around to learn more about the circumstances of the dedication, but coming up short. If you happen to have any leads, please let me know!

    • Parker Higgins
      Posted 13 April, 2015 at 14:13 | Permalink

      Hi Pete! Have you looked at the LoC page on the collection? http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/130_nyw.html

      If you need more than that I’d actually try calling the LoC. If you manage to get a librarian, I bet they would be helpful.

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