This is a designer's wet dream — I was introduced to this book at Katie Ryan's house out here in LA. It's called The World of Ornament, and it's not to be missed by any graphic artist or designer. It's a combination of two seminal works, one by Racinet and the other by Dupont-Auberville in the 1800's, and it's republished by Taschen in this century. It is a big, big book that includes hundreds of samples of ornamental patterns from all over the world from antiquity forward with their history and explanation. It's an amazing archive and reference tool...
"World of Ornament brings together the two greatest encyclopedic collections of ornament from the 19th century chromo-lithographic tradition.... Adapted from historical items dating back to antiquity, such as jewelry, tiles, stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, textiles, and ceramics, these ornamental designs encompass a wide range of cultural aesthetics including classic Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Etruscan motifs, Asian and middle-Eastern patterns, as well as European designs from medieval times through the 19th century."
And the kicker is that it comes with a CD in the back: EVERY pattern in the book is in digital and free for copying or using in any way. The patterns are a century beyond any rights management. It does cost $200, and I hear some folks sell pages at flea markets, but I would get my hands on the whole thing or copy the CD at least.
Here's a peek: