Today, whilst doing some research I came across this website: The National Diet Library (nothing to do with dieting, diet is the term used for parliament here in Japan).
It is a goldmine of information.
By far my favorite section is the International Library of Children's Literature (click top right) within this section there are slide shows of hundreds of old books dating back a couple of centuries. Alongside the list of books is a timeline of popular culture and social conditions at the time the book was published. One of the goals of the project is to illustrate the influence of "foreign" cultures and interconnectedness of the world. It's fascinating.
Another great read is the history of bookbinding and printing presses. It begins with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Again, so interesting.
If you're at all interested in Japanese illustration, of the traditional variety, have a look here Flora and Fauna. This page is all in Japanese but it's easy to pick out the dates as they are enclosed in brackets like this (1727). A lot of these images could serve as inspiration for textiles or wallpaper since pattern is enjoying such a resurgence at the moment.
Lastly I direct you to the Meiji and Taisho Era Photograph pages. So cool!
Most of this is available in English and Japanese. Very impressive.