The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Nov. 4 2015 12:50 PM

These 18th- and 19th-Century “Dissected Maps” Were the First Jigsaw Puzzles

The Library of Congress has recently digitized a group of puzzle maps dating from the late 18th to the early 20th century. These "dissected maps" were the first generation of jigsaw puzzles; following the latest educational theories of the time, they were sold as tools to make learning fun. 

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Nov. 2 2015 12:08 PM

A Striking Artifact of Casual Misogyny from the Early 20th Century

"Man and the horse-radish are most biting when grated," reads the Jean Paul Richter epigraph to this book of anti-female, anti-marriage quotations, published as a novelty item in 1903. The compliation, titled Bachelor Bigotries, offers bite-sized critiques of womankind for every day of the year, along with comic illustrations of put-upon married men. 

Oct. 30 2015 11:47 AM

A Moving Skeleton for Sale in Early-18th-Century London

The “Moving Skeleton” announced its first appearance “To all Gentlemen, Ladies, and others, who are Lovers of Curiosities” in the London Daily Courant in September 1716. By a “Mechanical Projection,” the skeleton emerged from an upright case with a spring-loaded door. A curtain then slowly rose to reveal a full human skeleton, holding an hourglass in one hand and a dart in the other. 

Oct. 28 2015 11:50 AM

Lyrical Engravings of Cyclists’ Adventures During The Sport’s Earliest Days

In a new book, Old Wheelways: Traces of Bicycle History on the Land, historian Robert L. McCullough writes about cyclists' explorations of the American landscape in the late nineteenth century. The book is filled with engravings that originally appeared in cycling publications like The Wheelman and Outing, cataloging the social world of bicycle enthusiasts, along with the landscapes and infrastructure that adventuresome cyclists observed on their treks through countrysides and cities. 

Oct. 27 2015 12:51 PM

The 37 Basic Plots, According to a Screenwriter of the Silent-Film Era 

In his 1919 manual for screenwriters, Ten Million Photoplay Plots, Wycliff Aber Hill provided this taxonomy of possible types of dramatic "situations," first running them down in outline form, then describing each more completely and offering possible variations. Hill, who published more than one aid to struggling "scenarists," positioned himself as an authority on the types of stories that would work well on screen. 

Oct. 23 2015 11:39 AM

Broody, Dramatic 20th-Century Posters Promoting Productions of Hamlet

In a new book, Presenting Shakespeare: 1,100 Posters From Around the World, Mirko Ilić and Steven Heller group examples of advertising art by Shakespeare play. Their Hamlet chapter is full of particularly lovely artistic interpretations, drawing from the moody source material of the play itself. 

Oct. 21 2015 12:12 PM

Early Aviation in Italy, As Seen Through the Enraptured Lens of a Futurist Pilot

World War I pilot Fédèle Azari spent the decade after the war making airplane-related art as part of the Italian Futurist movement. These photos, part of a group of Azari's images that have been digitized and made available through the J. Paul Getty Museum's Open Content Program, reflect Azari's vision of aviation as a gorgeous, transcendent art form. 

Oct. 19 2015 11:56 AM

An Early-20th-Century British Map of the Global Drug Trade 

This map of trade in opium and other drugs appeared in J.G. Bartholomew's Atlas of the World's Commerce, published in London in 1907. The book offered maps of infrastructure, communications, and exports, accompanied by statistical diagrams and interpretations; the David Rumsey Map Collection has digitized the atlas, and you can view the rest of it here.

Oct. 16 2015 10:53 AM

An Early-20th-Century Globe Promoting the Fantasy of a Socialist Culture on Mars

In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed a network of dark streaks on the surface of Mars. He called them canali (meaning “natural channels”) and transposed them onto the first detailed modern map of the Red Planet. Because the English translation canal implies a manmade waterway, Schiaparelli’s drawings were misinterpreted as evidence for an intelligent Martian civilization that tapped polar icecaps to irrigate its barren landscape. The theory took off.

Oct. 15 2015 9:22 AM

How Cultured Are You, by 1950s Standards? 

The three questionnaires below come from Ashley Montagu's 1958 book, The Cultured Man. Montagu—a well-respected anthropologist and former student of Franz Boas, who was influential in his profession's midcentury rejection of the idea of innate racial hierarchywrote many popular books, of which The Cultured Man is one.