Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New York Public Library Digital Gallery

I recently had the good fortune of stumbling across the New York Public Library's online image gallery.  Here's the introductory statement from the gallery's homepage:

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 700,000 images digitized from the The New York Public Library's vast collections, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more.
The catalogue gives you access to images of limitless subject matter, from history and the arts to animals, technology and science.  Of particular interest to me is the gallery's collection of cigarette card imagery, as the collection combines my two favorite things: Americana and old advertisements.  
Cigarette or tobacco cards began in the mid-19th century as premiums, enclosed in product packaging. They were usually issued in numbered series of twenty-five, fifty, or larger runs to be collected, spurring subsequent purchases of the same brand. Typically, these small cards feature illustrations on one side with related information and advertising text on the other. The height of cigarette card popularity occurred in the early decades of the 20th century, when tobacco companies around the world issued card sets in an encyclopedic range of subjects.
The images displayed on the cards speak to our country's history and give a glimpse into our nation's mindset during a particular moment in time.  For instance, this collection, entitled "Air Raid Precautions", circa 1939.

It's interesting how thoroughly ingrained the threat of war was into our nation's collective conscious - so much so that even your everyday ad supplied advice regarding wartime procedures.  The idea is foreign to me - I can't imagine living with the worry of the threat of an air-raid looming over my head (literally).

This card gives detailed instructions on using a rug to prevent toxic gas from entering your home.  Can you imagine?

All of the images from the NYPL's digital gallery are free to download as you wish. You can also purchase the prints directly from the library, with or without a frame.

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