The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Aug. 28 2015 10:43 AM

Dreamy Early-20th-Century Photochroms of Scenery in the Swiss Alps

Printed in 1905 by the Michigan-based Detroit Publishing Company, this group of photochroms showcased the scenery of the Swiss Alps for consumers who might or might not have ever visited Switzerland in person. 

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Aug. 27 2015 11:26 AM

An 1863 Recruitment Letter Urging the Formation of Anti-Lincoln Sleeper Cells

This 1863 letter, printed in Philadelphia, is addressed to Northerners who had come to oppose the President, especially after the passage of the conscription act in March of that year. As Northern political resistance to Lincoln and the war grew, the anonymous author of the letter proposed that groups of ten men—"Decemvirates"—come together to prepare for armed resistance against the "enslavement" of the draft.

Aug. 24 2015 1:04 PM

A Comprehensive 1943 Infographic of American Booms and Busts 

In 1943, as American businesses tried to guess whether wartime relief from the Depression would translate into postwar prosperity, the Tension Envelope Corporation printed this chart for customers. The infographic folded into a pamphlet, and could be displayed on the wall when opened. (The online archive of the Federal Reserve, FRASER, has digitized a PDF of the pamphlet, which you can view here.

Aug. 21 2015 1:15 PM

An Artist’s Strangely Compelling 1960s Scrapbook of Comic Book Art 

The Smithsonian's Archives of American Art has digitized this scrapbook assembled by artist Ray Yoshida in (they believe) the late 1960s. Yoshida collected images from comics, the back-of-the-book ads that followed comic-book stories, and newspaper comic strips, grouping scraps together in loose typologies: hands; explosions; kisses; the sea.

Aug. 20 2015 1:23 PM

A Detailed Brochure for an 1855 Slave Auction Shows How People Were Sold as Property  

This 1855 brochure for a New Orleans slave auction staged by the firm of J.A. Beard & May shows how dealers represented the personal qualities, work history, and physical attributes of enslaved people who were up for sale. In this auction, two plantations' labor "gangs" were to be split up and sold by the heirs of deceased planter and investor William M. Lambeth. (The brochure was digitized by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, and is available via the Internet Archive.)

Aug. 17 2015 12:14 PM

The Roads Around Late-18th-Century London, Mapped in Close-Up Detail   

These strip maps of roads around London come from an atlas printed in 1790 by mapmaker John Cary. For travelers moving on foot or on horseback, the level of local information in Cary's maps allowed for better planning of stops and provisioning. Each map named the owners of the houses to be found along the way, and designated sites of public houses, inns, and bridges. 

Aug. 14 2015 2:31 PM

A Lovely 19th-Century Illustrated Book of Japanese Falconry

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has digitized the pages of this 1860s book of falconry in Japan, which is titled Ehon taka kagami, or An Illustrated Mirror of Falconry. The woodcuts by Kawanabe Kyôsai (or Gyôsai) depict equipment and training methods, as well as many beautiful Siberian goshawks, the species that 19th-century Japanese falconers favored. 


Aug. 12 2015 1:10 PM

How to Hide Well: WWII-Era Advice From the British Special Operations Executive Guide

This candid guide to hiding in plain sight is drawn from the official training booklet of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Aug. 10 2015 11:07 AM

Midcentury Cartoons for Worried Print Journalists 

In the late 1950s, TV news was on the rise, as more and more Americans (nearly 90 percent of them, in fact) were buying sets. As broadcasters competed with print journalists for breaking news, writers for newspapers and magazines were rethinking their role as storytellers and interpreters.

Aug. 7 2015 1:44 PM

Graceful Minimalist Diagrams of Early-20th-Century Olympic High Dives   

These pretty diagrams of types of high dives performed in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm are from the official report summarizing the events of the games, published in 1913. (The book has been digitized by the University of Toronto and is available in full on the Internet Archive.)