What does the term ‘As thick as thieves’ mean?

Origin: We might expect ‘as thick as thieves’ to be a variant of the other commonly used ‘thick’ simile ‘as thick as two short planks’. The fact that the former expression originated as ‘as thick as two thieves’ gives more weight to that expectation. As you may have guessed from that lead in, the two […]

The Book of Hours, c.1500s.

A selection of wonderful little illustrations found in a  Fifteenth Century Book of Hours attributed to an artist of the Ghent-Bruges school and dating from the late 15th century. In the pages without full borders the margins have been decorated with an array of different images depicting flowers, birds, jewellery, animals, household utensils and these […]

Hemingway creates a Reading List for a Young Writer.

In 1934 Ernest Hemingway wrote down a list of two short stories and 14 books and handed it to a young out-of-work writer Arnold Samuelson (many of the texts you can find in the Open Culture collection of Free eBooks): “The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane Madame Bovary by […]

Remmelin’s Anatomical ‘Flap’ Book.

This volume is a rare edition in Dutch of the greatest of the anatomical ‘flap’ books. The work features three full-page plates with dozens of detailed anatomical illustrations superimposed so that lifting the layers shows the anatomy as it would appear during dissection. Although flaps had been used in printing before, Remmelin was the first […]

The Brothers Grimm & their dark early fairytales.

A postcard from the 1800s shows the seven dwarfs finding Snow White asleep in their bedroom. Hulton Archive/Getty Images The Original Folk & Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm, Jack Zipes and Andrea Dezso It’s well-known that our favorite fairy tales started out darker than the ones Disney animators brought […]

Caxton’s printing of The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer.

Portrait of Chaucer from the William Caxton printing of the Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London in the early 1340s. His father, John, was a wealthy wine-merchant who held a minor position at court. In 1385 Chaucer moved to Kent, which he represented as a Member of Parliament for three years. Although he […]

Craws and Flaws, a Satirical Work of James Gillray.

James Gillray (1757-1815) was among the most popular, prolific, revered, and reviled print satirists of the golden age of English caricature, the late eighteenth century. He took special delight in attacking the excesses of the royal family. Here, he caustically depicts King George III, Queen Charlotte, and the Prince of Wales (later George IV) gorging […]

Everard Digby’s The Art of Swimming 1587.

lllustrations from Everard Digby’s De Arte Natandi (The Art of Swimming) published in 1587, considered the first English treatise on the practice. Divided into two parts, the first is largely theoretical (Digby wrote in Latin, though it would be translated into English by Christopher Middleton eight years later). The second part is concerned with practical […]

The Last Steam Locomotives.

Ice Train departure from Scranton, 2011. © Dennis A. Livesey Steam trains have had a lasting romantic appeal, especially for photographers. In the new book Smoke Over Steamtown, published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., Dennis A. Livesey documents the steam trains and the people who run them at Steamtown National Historic Site, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a […]

Illustrations from ‘Dante’s Divine Comedy’ by Martini.

In 1901, Vittorio Alinari, head of Fratelli Alinari, the world’s oldest photographic firm, decided to publish a new illustrated edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. To do so, Alinari announced a competition for Italian artists: each competitor had to send illustrations of at least two cantos of the epic poem, which would result in one winner […]