The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

June 3 2016 12:11 PM

How Two Artists Turn Old Encyclopedias Into Beautiful, Melancholy Art

I find few things sadder than a print encyclopedia. Encyclopedias were once so stalwart and useful, sold as a stable repository of knowledge that would carry a family through life for years; the relic sets are now utter dead weight. I see them sometimes at library book sales and spend a minute opening up a random volume, thinking about the night I wrote a fifth-grade paper on the Aztecs that relied overmuch on our old World Book. But despite a wave of nostalgia, I never take the orphans home. Who has the shelf space?

June 1 2016 1:24 PM

Some Lost Superstitions of the Early-20th-Century United States

These deeply entertaining lists of superstitions, gathered by Fletcher Bascom Dressler in 1907, are a good sample of the kinds of sayings American college students from across the country heard in their homes in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. I've excerpted a few choice topic areas below, but you can read the whole book, held at Harvard University, in the HathiTrust Digital Library. 

May 25 2016 2:37 PM

Pretty Portraits of the Tiny, Lumpy, Sweet Strawberries of the Early 20th Century

Here are some of the images found in a search for "strawberry" in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pomological Watercolor Collection, which holds art made for the department between 1886 and 1942. This collection contains USDA-produced art that was used in publications illustrating advances in pomology (fruit breeding and production) for the benefit of American growers. 

May 18 2016 2:49 PM

A 1942 List of Hitler’s Lies

This 11-page document collects 10 years of Adolf Hitler's "more conspicuous lies," as the American Office of War Information described them in December 1942. Most are mischaracterizations (to put it mildly) of Nazi intentions toward the world: "We have no territorial demands to make in Europe" (March 1936); "We want nothing from France—nothing at all" (September 1938); "Germany does not conduct a war against small nations" (April 1940).

May 11 2016 12:34 PM

Adorable Depression-Era Posters Promoting Kindness to Animals

These posters, by artist Morgan Dennis, were produced for the American Humane Association's Be Kind to Animals Week during the 1930s. The commemorative week was first observed in 1915, and several well-known artists of the time created artwork to promote it over its first few decades of life. The national organization offered copies of posters like Dennis' to local branches, leaving space at the bottom for their identifying information. 

May 6 2016 1:56 PM

How Early-19th-Century Students Cemented Their Bonds Through Friendship Albums

Friendship albums became popular in America in the 1820s, as the blossoming culture of sentimentalism made its mark on personal relationships, especially those of young people. Bookmakers created sturdy, thick, leather-bound books expressly for friends to leave emotional tributes. This album was a gift to Mary Wallace Peck, a former student and then drawing teacher at the Litchfield Female Academy in Connecticut, from her fiancé Edward Mansfield in 1825.

May 2 2016 2:20 PM

Finding the Poetry in Walt Whitman’s Newly Rediscovered Health Advice

On Friday, the journal Walt Whitman Quarterly Review published a special issue reprinting a series of journalistic treatises by Whitman, expounding on the nature of health. "Manly Health and Training," written under the pseudonym "Mose Velsor" and published in installments in the New York Atlas in 1858, is 47,000 words long, and you can read the whole thing here

April 27 2016 2:33 PM

A WWI–Era Memo Asking French Officers to Practice Jim Crow With Black American Troops

In this memo published by W.E.B. DuBois in the NAACP's magazine the Crisis in 1919, a French liaison to the American military in France counsels French officers on the proper treatment of black American troops. The memo, signed by Colonel J.L.A. Linard of the American Expeditionary Force Headquarters, voices white American concerns that black soldiers and officers working with the French were being treated with too much "familiarity and indulgence."  

April 22 2016 3:02 PM

A Trove of Newly-Digitized Trademarks Offers A Capsule History of Late-19th-Century California

The California State Archives recently announced that it has digitized thousands of trademark applications filed with the state between 1861 and 1900. California passed a trademark law in 1863, years before the first federal trademark legislation. The state acted in part, writes the State Archives, to regulate the "explosion of commerce after the Gold Rush." 

April 18 2016 2:13 PM

Some Surviving Receipts for Taxes Paid in 18th-Century England and Scotland

This small group of receipts for taxes paid in the United Kingdom, before the institution of an income tax in 1799, show how land, real estate, and other property translated into money owed in the last decade of the 18th century. 

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