The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Sept. 2 2015 9:06 AM

Forty-Three Years of Hand-Drawn Maps of the Surface of the Sun, in One Mesmerizing Video

Every day since 1956, people in mountaintop observatories have been making careful drawings of the sun. Formally called “solar synoptic maps,” the maps show a daily summary of the sun’s activity, including sunspots, solar flares, and other phenomena. The maps are available on the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website, if you’re willing to dig around a little.

Video Advertisement

Aug. 31 2015 12:55 PM

Sketches of Life in a Union POW Camp, by a Confederate Prisoner

These sketches were made by Confederate prisoner Jacob Omenhausser at Point Lookout, Maryland, in 1864. The New-York Historical Society has digitized the artwork, which was preserved in the personal papers of Brigadier General James Barnes, the Union commander in charge of the district that contained Point Lookout. 

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. 

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).

READ MORE STORIES