The Best Historical Stock Photo Collections

The best way to find historical stock photos is to begin with a professionally-assembled collection that incorporates photos from world-leading historical archives and includes detailed and trusted research. 

This page shares the best historical stock photography collections from our partner Gado Images. For over 10 years, Gado Images’ professional archivists and researchers have digitized and shared historical stock photos from many of the world’s top sources.

The Afro-American Newspapers

The Afro-American Newspapers

More than ever, publishers and advertisers need historical stock photos that depict diverse communities. 

Since 1892, Afro-American Newspapers have covered African American community life and Black History in the United States. Founded by a former enslaved person, the Afro Newspapers have remained in the same family for generations. In the paper’s heyday, it had nine editions covering most cities on the American East Coast. 

Today, the Afro-American newspapers have an archive of over one and a half million photos depicting African American life throughout the 20th century. 

The Afro’s collections include portraits of iconic civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson, major historical events such as World War II and the Vietnam War, and photos of everyday Black life in cities including Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia. 

Because the Afro Newspapers employed staff photographers, in many cases, the paper’s photos are unique. Many have never been published before.

The Afro’s collections are perfect for documentary filmmakers seeking to portray diverse subjects, as well as educational publishers seeking images of iconic Black Americans.

Clarence Gatson Collection

Clarence Gatson Collection

Photographer Clarence Gatson documented African American life in San Francisco’s Castro District throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Tragically, Clarence passed away suddenly in the early 1990s, leaving his archive unpublished and unexplored.

Clarence’s remarkable photo archive was recently digitized. It includes unique depictions of black life in San Francisco, life in the Castro District during the 1990s, and intimate portraits of entertainment icons and celebrities, including Tupac Shakur, Flavor Flav, and many more.

Smith Collection

Smith Collection

The Smith collection includes wholly owned and carefully curated materials depicting American life from the 1700s through the 2000s. The collection includes historical engravings, Kodachrome slides, postcards, ephemera, and many other vintage items. 

The Smith collection is especially strong in its depiction of California history and the history of the American West Coast. The Smith collection also includes thousands of carefully researched medical and scientific images from the Centers for Disease Control.

Duke University

Duke University

The collections of the Duke University Rubenstein Library encompass a variety of unique and wholly-owned historical photos. Many of these photos are copyrighted, making them unique and impossible to find anywhere else. 

The Gamble Collection features thousands of early photographs of China and other Asian destinations, and the Stryker Collection includes powerful imagery of Cuba and life under communism.

Vintage Vernacular

Vintage Vernacular

Snapshots and vernacular images by amateur photographers provide important ways to tell authentic stories about historical locations, activities, and ways of life.

This collection of vintage vernacular photographs captures everyday life in the 20th century through the lens of families and non-professionals.

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University

The Johns Hopkins University is one of the world’s leading forces in science and medicine. The University’s collections reflect that storied history, with imagery depicting scientific breakthroughs, major scientists of the 20th century, and medical discoveries.

The Libraries’ collections also include hundreds of rare early portraits of African-Americans, a substantial collection of Civil War broadsides, propaganda and promotional posters, and many other unique historical stock images.

Researchers often use materials from Johns Hopkins University to illustrate academic books, as well as for documentary films and other editorial purposes.

Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection

Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection

Sheet music was the popular culture of the 1700’s and 1800’s. The front covers of many pieces of sheet music included intricate lithographs and engravings depicting political topics, daily life, love, grief, and war.

The Lester S Levy sheet music collection is among the best sheet music collections in the world. It includes over 18,000 sheet music cover images, many with unique and historically important engravings and often full-color lithographs.

Journalists love to use these historical photos to depict major world events before the dawn of photography. They’re also perfect as posters, or for personal uses.

Stuart Lutz Collection

Stuart Lutz Collection

The Stuart Lutz Collection is the best private collection of Vietnam War visual history in the world. Over a lifetime, Stuart Lutz has built an archive of Vietnam War photos, documents, artifacts, slides, and other historical materials. 

This collection shares this incredible resource, making visual depictions of the Vietnam War available to license as historical stock photos. Many of these photos in the collection come from soldiers who fought on the ground in Vietnam, and are available nowhere else. 

The Collection is especially strong in its color photography from the Vietnam War. The Lutz Collection also includes other 1960s and 1970s countercultural materials, including images of hippie protests, buttons and posters, and more. Additionally, the collection includes depictions of early LGBTQ+ history in the 1980s and 1990s. 

The Lutz Collection is an essential resource for researchers producing books, articles, or documentaries about the Vietnam War. Its LGBTQ+ materials are another unique resource that is almost impossible to find anywhere else.

Elizabeth Morse Collection

Elizabeth Morse Collection

The Elizabeth Morse Collection includes hundreds of early color slides depicting travel topics from around the world. The collection includes unique historical color photos of countries including Afghanistan and Israel.

It also includes some of the only known color images of the Bamiyan Buddhas, which were destroyed by the Taliban in the early 2000s. 

The Morse Collection includes unique historical color stock photos of African American families and of diverse people in New York City and other American locations.

The collection is popular for journalists who want to show historical life in often-inaccessible historical locations.

Rex Brandt Sketchbooks

Rex Brandt Sketchbooks

American Watercolor Master Rex Brandt painted vibrant watercolors of the American West Coast, Hawaii, and international destinations. His sketchbooks include hundreds of previously unpublished works, sketches, and drawings, the early precursors to many of his later paintings.

Held by the Laguna College of Art and Design, the sketchbooks provide vibrance and insight into life in California, as well as some of the early beginnings of the contemporary watercolor movement.

Brandt’s vibrant watercolors are often used in travel magazines, as posters, and in other locations where a vibrant artistic image helps to tell a powerful story.

Visualizing the Valley

Visualizing the Valley

The Visualizing the Valley collection includes early imagery of Silicon Valley and technology topics. In partnership with Synthetic Engineers, it also includes unique depictions of artificial intelligence and other high-tech topics.

The technology field moves so quickly that many images have become historic in a matter of years instead of decades. Encompassing imagery from the early to mid-2000s, this collection tells the story of Silicon Valley and the tech world’s ever-changing companies and cultures.

The collection is especially notable for its imagery of major technology companies, including Google, LinkedIn, eBay, and more.

Ken Florey Suffrage Collection

Ken Florey Suffrage Collection

The Ken Florey Suffrage Collection depicts women’s suffrage and women’s rights throughout the world from the 1800s to today. Throughout his life, collector Ken Florey has built the collection through acquisitions, research, and a deep knowledge of the best historical women’s suffrage imagery.

The Ken Florey Collection is unique in its depiction of women’s suffrage outside the United States. Whereas most historical women’s rights collections focus on America, the Florey Collection includes early materials from England, Europe, and other international destinations.

The Florey Collection is a perfect fit for researchers and authors depicting the history of women’s rights. The materials are often used in advertisements that depict the powerful history of women who changed the world.

Wendy Morgan Collection

Wendy Morgan Collection

The Wendy Morgan Collection is a growing collection of images depicting the 1970s through the 1990s. The Collection includes vintage analog photos shot on Kodak Instamatic cameras, one of the earliest examples of a square photo format.

In addition, The Collection includes hard-to-find imagery of the 1980s and 1990s, especially strong in its depiction of California and the West Coast.

The Collection is popular with storytellers who are looking for authentic, unique imagery showing lifestyles, clothing styles, and, of course, hairstyles from the 80s and 90s.

Potter and Potter Auctions

Potter and Potter Auctions

Potter and Potter Auctions is a boutique auction house specializing in paper Americana, vintage advertising, rare books, coin-op, playing cards, gaming memorabilia, vintage posters, prints, and magicana – antiques and collectibles focused on magic and magicians. 

Potter and Potter’s collection features stunning imagery of early magicians and their illusions, as well as a large and unique collection of early travel posters. 

The collections’ travel posters are popular with restaurants, hotels, and destinations, as well as with companies looking for vintage posters for reproduction and sale.

Gado Modern Color

Many early historical photos are black and white. Although hand-colored images and early color photography feature prominently in our collections here at Historical Stock Photos, not every historical topic includes color imagery.

Gado Modern Color

For that reason, the Gado Modern Color collection uses leading digital colorization technologies to colorize historical images. The Collection includes colorized portraits of celebrities of the nineteenth century, civil rights figures, and more. 

The Collection is popular with textbook publishers and book authors who are looking for a color depiction of historical figures or a color historical photo for the cover of a popular book.

Conclusion

Professionally scanned, carefully researched historical stock photos can elevate your creative project, lending authenticity and visual power to anything you create.

Imagery from these world-leading collections is the perfect fit for publishers, journalists, filmmakers, advertisers and others who seek the highest-quality historical photos available today.

Historical Stock Photos
Logo
Shopping cart