Steampunk Currency

I’ve always admired countries that put figures other than national political leaders on their currency.  The UK £20 note featured the great scientist Michael Faraday for a while in the 1990s and in pre-Euro days, Galileo was on the Italian 2000 lire note. Apparently Jane Austen is scheduled to appear on a UK £10 note next year.  The closest that the US has gotten is Benjamin Franklin on our $100 bill.  While Dr. Franklin was a noted scientist of his day, he is featured on US currency because he was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

It was not always so, however. Continue reading


The Colors of the Past

One of the more interesting ways to while away the hours is by looking at old photographs, especially those from the birth of photography in the mid-1800s. An amazing amount of detail  can be gleaned from a photograph printed from a large glass plate.

But are we really seeing what we think we’re seeing? First off, the images are necessarily monochromatic—black and white. Any color that is seen in black-and-white photographs is a result of hand-tinting the photograph, typically to put some color in the subject’s cheeks. Color photography, although experimented with even early on in photography’s history, was extremely cumbersome, and required laboratory-grade equipment to pull off. Even the great Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell thought about color reproduction and what is considered to be the first color photograph was made using a technique he first described.

So we’re left with black-and-white photography for the Victorian Era. But are we really seeing a proper monochromatic reproduction of reality? In most cases, the answer is no. Continue reading

Eerie Animated GIFs


Artist Kevin Weir takes photographs from the collection of the Library of Congress online archive and converts them to animated GIFs.  The result is somewhat steampunky, and very eerie. Some of them remind me of Terry Gilliam’s animations from Monty Python’s Flying Circus (which is not necessarily a bad thing…).

The results are thought provoking and definitely worth the time to scroll through them.

Amazing Internet Archive of Historic Graphics

An American academic at Georgetown University, Kalev Leetaru, has started amassing what will ultimately be 12 million historic public domain images.

Located on flickr, the Internet Archive Book Image currently has 2.6 million images–photographs, graphics, maps, music, advertisements, bits of illuminated manuscripts–all downloadable copyright-free.  The images date from ca. 1500 to 1922 (when copyright restrictions begin).  The images are also searchable.

Some examples I found interesting on the first few pages of the archive.  I have a feeling that I’ll be perusing this site regularly.





Beautiful Scientific Illustrations on Retronaut

V0025020 Astronomy: a diagram of various atmospheric effects. Coloure

If you’re not familiar with the website Retronaut  (and you really should be), it’s a collection of all manner of vintage photographs and illustrations spanning millenia. One can easily spend vast amounts of time perusing this site!

The site recently featured a number of beautiful colored engravings on scientific topics by John Philipps Emslie, a Victorian age illustrator.  I find his work beautiful and strangely modern in the methods he uses to impart information. Reproduced above is his Diagram of Meteorology.  Retronaut has a couple of collections of his work.

Infographics of the Natural World

Scientific Diagrams