How to use the Visual Search Engine

You can now search Compositor visually, allowing you to find matching and similar ornaments from the database. Here’s how.

Find an ornament you’d like to find matches for in Compositor. Here is an example:

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From here, click “Load Ornament in Visual Search”.

Once the Visual Search page has opened, use your cursor to highlight the area of the ornament you’d like to see similar images to. You could highlight a small detail, or if you want to see images that are like the whole ornament, just draw a large box, like this…

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…and click “Search”.

You’ll see matching images from the database. For this ornament there are 32 similar images.

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Click on a match and this is what you’ll see:

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On the left is your original ornament; on the right is the match you clicked on; you can click on the middle image to toggle between the two, allowing you to easily pick out minor variations that might not be obvious side by side.

To see if there are any images that are similar to your search query, but not quite so alike, lower the “Score Threshold” and try again. This will show less exact matches (if any exist).

So, you’ve found a match for your original ornament, and you’d like to see the details of the book it came from? Simply click the match you want to investigate, and you’ll see the three side-by-side images again. Underneath your match, on the right, is the ornament’s ID number.

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Click the number to see the ornament full screen. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see the phrase “This ornament was extracted from this book“. Click “this book” to see where your ornament came from, back on the main Compositor site.

From there, you can launch the Visual Search again, and continue investigating matching ornaments.

Compositor’s visual search engine is powered by VISE, a tool developed by the Visual Geometry Group at the University of Oxford. Read more about VISE here:

Fleuron is now Compositor!

The database of eighteenth-century printers’ ornaments formerly known as Fleuron has found a new home at! The new name reflects the fact that there is a lot more in the database beside fleurons (or ornamental type), such as block ornaments (head and tailpieces, initial letters), factotums, rules, borders, and some woodcut illustrations, diagrams, and other examples of eighteenth-century graphic design. The new site is named for the men and women who used these decorative and illustrative tools as they constructed eighteenth-century books: the compositors.

Compositor contains two new ways of searching the database:

1. by keyword –– some of the ornaments in the database have been tagged with keywords relating to what they depict, for example “sun”, “cherubs”, “flowers”, “lion”. We aim to tag the whole database soon, so that it will be fully searchable by subject matter.

2. image search –– the new image search page lets you navigate to an ornament, highlight it, and see matching or similar ornaments from the database. See the next blog post for more detailed instructions on how to use the image search.

The site is a work in progress and will be updated as we make its search tools both more sophisticated and user friendly. Enjoy using Compositor!

Themes in Ornaments 1: Books

This is the first of a series of short blog posts on the images depicted in printers’ ornaments. Each post will explore a different theme found in printers’ ornaments of the eighteenth century (and beyond).

Here are six ornaments that all depict books.

Ornaments depicting books are satisfyingly self-referential. These two headpieces feature open books, creating miniature images of the real open book that is in front of the viewer as they are reading. These ornaments use tiny dots and lines to indicate the presence of text on the page.



The ornament below depicts a book and a face. Perhaps both the book containing the ornament, and the face of its reader, are being reflected back at us.


The book as a physical object is being celebrated in these headpieces. Here, books are flanked by lions and birds:



These ornaments not only depict books, they depict books featuring printers’ ornaments. The craftsperson has depicted the product of their own labour within the design. Each open book clearly features a headpiece and a tailpiece. They are indistinct in the two images above, though in the second one we can make out the large initial letters T and O.

Here we can clearly see that the tailpiece on the recto depicts an angel:


So this is a book, containing an ornament, which depicts angels, holding a book, containing an ornament, which depicts an angel…

The engraver was certainly having fun.


The ornaments depicted here can be found on Fleuron at the following URLs:

An Introduction to Fleuron, part 1

What does Fleuron contain?

Fleuron is a database of eighteenth-century printers’ ornaments, broadly defined as the decorative features of the pages of printed books. It also contains some illustrations: the boundaries between the categories of ‘ornament’ and ‘illustration’ are somewhat blurred.

‘Printers’ ornaments’ is an umbrella term for the devices, flourishes, and images that decorate printed books. The term usually refers to the designs cut by hand in blocks of wood or metal, and also  cast blocks. Printers’ ornaments come in the form of headpieces, tailpieces, initial letters, factotums, and dividers (see Glossary). The database also includes printers’ flowers, or fleurons (the database’s namesake), which are two terms for ornamental cast type. Fleurons could be assembled into designs consisting of many pieces, or used individually and in pairs for smaller flourishes.

Fleuron was created using an image detection program, designed to recognise and extract printers’ ornaments. Because they look similar to printers’ ornaments, the program also extracted smaller illustrations (both woodcuts and engravings), and diagrams and other scientific illustrations. These will remain in the database. Larger illustrations were not captured by the program. The program incorrectly classified some items as ornaments: for example, library stamps, handwritten notes, and blurred or overexposed areas of text. Many of these have already been eliminated, but the process of cleaning up the database is ongoing.

The database currently contains around 1.5 million entries. This will reduce slightly as more  incorrectly identified items are gradually removed. Future phases of the project may see the addition of new data to Fleuron as well.