Amazing Old (and Free) Visualization Books

In: Graphic Design (general) Graphic Tools History

22 Feb 2012

There are lots of great new books out there about graphics and data visualization. But have you ever taken a look at some that were written back before computer software? It turns out that most of these chart and visualization methods have been around for decades – it’s just that they used to draw them by hand.

I highly recommend these books to anyone. Besides the impressive graphics and nostalgia values, the writing quality and content advice are excellent – regardless of what century you are in.

Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts, Willard Cope Brinton (1914). Brinton not only presents a variety of graph types, he goes into quite a bit of detail on the decisions that go into making a well designed chart. Note the author’s sarcastic review of the first chart  below – Ha!

image image

In 1939, Brinton released a greatly expanded version of his book, entitled Graphic Presentation, which covers an amazing breadth of graphic methods (520 pages with separate chapters for 59 different graph types!) —  including these beauties:

image image   image image imageimage image

Sections on chart elements and color choice:

image image

Who knew they were drawing 3d curve charts in 1939?:


Next up, Calvin Schmid’s 1954 Handbook of Graphic Presentation. Schmid focused a lot on the proper use of design elements, including some draftsmanship tips. It’s amusing how many of the examples resemble charts from recent policy debates:



Others are a bit more dated:

imageimage image

Note: if you want to read these on your iPad (like I did), you should follow the directions at this link (the PDF files available directly from the Archive do not always display properly).

1 Response to Amazing Old (and Free) Visualization Books



February 28th, 2012 at 22:17

Hi Dustin,
I’ve found you can download the whole pdf for both Brinton books via the openlibrary (a neat find in itself!):

The same also goes for Schmid:

thanks for the inspiration to go looking! 🙂

Comment Form

You must be logged in to post a comment.