Primary Sources

Day Book of Nathanial Dominy V from the Dominy Craftsmen Collection

Ackermann’s Repository, or “The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics” (40 volumes, 1809-1828) was an illustrated British periodical published by Rudolph Ackermann. It includes illustrations of furniture, interiors, architecture, fashion, sporting life, and more. The Internet Archive provides full text of the copy owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. See (1809) vol. 1, (1809) vol. 2, (1810) vol. 3, etc.

American Journeys: Eyewitness Accounts of Early American Exploration and Settlement, produced by the Wisconsin Historical Society, provides full text for over 150 books, manuscripts and travel narratives dating from 1000 to 1844. Images are searchable independently.

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (1801-1920) and its predecessor The Botanical Magazine (1787-1800) are available online through the Biodiversity Heritage Library. In addition, the Rare Books Collection of the USDA National Agricultural Library provides selected plates online from Curtis and other early natural history publications.

Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture Electronic Facsimiles is a collection of digitized texts from the University of Wisconsin Libraries and the Chipstone Foundation.

Documenting the American South from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a collection of digitized primary source materials focusing on Southern history and culture. Although not specifically concerned with the decorative arts, this site is useful for the history and literature of the area.

Dominy Craftsmen Collection provides digitized archival documents (accounts, letters, receipts), along with articles, a videotaped symposium at the East Hampton Historical Society, and more, relating to the Dominy family of East Hampton, New York. Three generations of Dominys functioned as craftsmen from ca. 1760 to ca. 1850. Their work included producing tall case clocks and furniture, repairing thousands of pocket watches, and supplying agricultural tools to farmers in East Hampton township.

Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers of Diderot and d’Alembert (1751-1772), the massive reference work of French Enlightenment knowledge in 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of plates, is available in a searchable online version under the auspices of the ARTFL Project. To browse a list of all illustrations: (1) select “advanced search,” (2) in the “type of entry” box type: plate_legend, (3) hit search. Alternatively, add additional French search terms, e.g. meubles (for furniture), for focused results. Some of the Encyclopedie is also available in English at a companion project in process. See the collaborative translation website.

Le Garde-meuble, ancien et moderne (Furniture Repository, Ancient and Modern) was a 19th-early 20th century French periodical consisting entirely of illustrations of designs for furniture, window treatments and room settings. This online document presents the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ nearly complete set of the early (1841-1851) issues.

Selections from Godey’s Lady’s Book are available via a University of Vermont website. UW-Madison researchers have access to a licensed version (Godey’s Lady’s Book 1830-55).

Historical Maps of Pennsylvania presents maps of Pennsylvania from the 16th through the 20th centuries. The quality of the digital images varies.

Internet Archive’s Ebooks and Texts is a searchable database of digitized books dating as early as 1800, from libraries including the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, and the Winterthur Museum. For example, see “The Footman’s Directory and Butler’s Remembrancer” (1823).

Internet Modern History Sourcebook, edited by Paul Halsall of Fordham University, is a metasite for history documents. The site provides links to publicly available historical texts. The texts are not specifically concerned with decorative arts but are useful for historical perspective and context. Information on the Internet History Sourcebook Project is available at

London Lives 1690 to 1800: Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis is a searchable edition of 240,000 archival manuscripts. The documentary material enables reconstruction of the lives of thousands of 18th century Londoners, including artisans and tradesmen. Browse biographies compiled from the data.

Making of America is a collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Cornell University to provide primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. Over 10,000 books are included.

Plymouth Colony Archive Project provides access to court records, colony laws, 17th century journals and memoirs, probate inventories, wills, town plans, maps, and more.

Widdifield Notebook (c. 1704-1720) is a personal aide-memoire compiled by a British joiner who migrated to Philadelphia c. 1705.  See the “page text” display for a transcription.

Winterthur Museum Library’s online collection of trade and retail catalogs can be browsed by subject via the Internet Archive.

NOTE: UW-Madison students have access to many licensed sources. See the UW-Madison Database Library list of historical/primary sources for suggestions of databases including 18th e-books, letters and diaries, and more.