You may already know about the Library of Congress’s nearly 30,000 copyright free images available on Flickr, and if you’ve enjoyed those then you’ll definitely enjoy the British Library’s collection of Ships & Boats. Among the fully rigged ships you’ll find great examples of vernacular small boats in use, with snippets of text around them that give clues about the action in the scenes.

Click through to an image, and you’ll find that the library posted all of the bibliography data for each, including the publication date. The real treasure might be that there are links to download full PDFs of the books in which they appear. It’s a fantastic database to mine; well organized and open to all.

Here are a few favorites:

North Pole and South Pole: Two men in a small sailing boat.

Title: “Le Pôle Nord et le Pôle Sud … Ouvrage illustré, etc” Author: TISSOT, Victor – and AMÉRO (Constant) Shelfmark: “British Library HMNTS” Page: 87 Place of Publishing: Paris Date of Publishing: 1889

Harbor scene: Small rowing boat, slightly larger boat very round and with leeboards.

Title: “The illustrated universal gazetteer” Contributor: AINSWORTH, William Francis. Shelfmark: “British Library HMNTS 10003.d.14.” Page: 588 Place of Publishing: London Date of Publishing: 1860 Publisher: J. Maxwell & Co.


Harbor scened: large ships and small boats rowing, working pier at left.

Title: “A system of Physical Geography … To which is added a treatise on the Physical Geography of the United States … The whole embellished by numerous engravings and … maps … by J. H. Young” Author: WARREN, David M. Contributor: YOUNG, James Hamilton. Shelfmark: “British Library HMNTS 10025.f.13.” Page: 11 Place of Publishing: London, Philadelphia [printed] Date of Publishing: 1857

Sailing canoe and uniformed man at the edge of the water.

Title: “Cruise of the Ringleader (Canoe)” Author: INWARDS, James. Shelfmark: “British Library HMNTS 10369.bbb.18.” Page: 8 Place of Publishing: London Date of Publishing: 1870


Reed boat, a paddler with a double paddle and a passenger in European clothes with luggage.

Title: “De Aardbol. Magazijn van hedendaagsche land- en volkenkunde … Met platen en kaarten. [Deel 4-9 by P. H. W.]” Contributor: WITKAMP, Pieter Harme. Shelfmark: “British Library HMNTS 10002.g.16-19.” Volume: 10 Page: 812 Place of Publishing: Amsterdam Date of Publishing: 1839