Leave it to the Smithsonian Libraries to have a delightful collection of vintage GIFs which blend the Internet’s love of moving pictures with everyone else’s love of classic line drawings.

A current fascination among historians, the design-enamored, and people who like to watch old images take on new life, the GIFs have been shared everywhere from the Washington Post to Flavorwire.  But the Smithsonian isn’t the only archival collection to share charming, book-related GIFs; the Special Collections of the University of Iowa and Othmer Library of Chemical History at the Chemical Heritage Foundation also both have a robust number of these sweet images.


GIFs — once the punchline of dated web design jokes — have recently become much more of an artistic expression. Motion photography is rapidly making its way out of the darkroom and into the light of real museums and online galleries as more and more photographers begin experimenting with this emerging medium. And the Smithsonian et al’s take on the reanimation of old images is pretty captivating, partially because it’s such a brilliant blend of old and new media, and partially because they’re really, really well done.

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The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century, 1825.

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“A diagram of the movement of the Moon around the Earth (seen here) and a recipe for invisible ink await you inMary Smith’s Commonplace Book. Help us make Mary’s journal of scientific inquiry more accessible by becoming a digital volunteer at theSmithsonian Transcription Center.”

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Miniature nursery rhyme books, via U of I

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“From Edward Topsell’s The History of Four Footed Beasts and Serpents, published in 1658.  Topsell refers to the world of insects as the Theater of Insects, perhaps this little guy is leaving to take in a show!”


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“Friendly skeleton from Natural History for the use of schools and families (1864)”


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“In honor of July 30th’s #MuseumCats day, please enjoy this lynx fromExercitationes de Differentiis et Nominibus Animalium by Walter Charleton, 1677.”

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“Original image from Upcott’s Scrapbook of early aeronautica.”

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“For National Red Rose Day we thought we’d make a fun gif of “a rose resuscitated.” Palingenesis is the act (or idea) of raising a plant from its own burned ashes. Athanasius Kircher was a believer and gave his method inMundus Subterraneu, 1665. The method is also laid out with this illustration in Curiosities of Nature and Art in Husbandry and Gardening, 1707 by Abbé de Vallemont.”


“The Hanlon Brothers, or the Hanlon-Lees, were some of the most influential circus and variety performers ever.  Performing first as children in the 1840s and continuing into the early 20th century, they became known for their acrobatics and death defying stunts such as the “Perilous Ladder.””

To see more Smithsonian GIFs, be sure to check out their Tumblr.