Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

March 18 2014 1:00 PM

A Brooklyn Woman's Colorful Quilt, Illustrating Her Experience of the Civil War  


Lucinda Ward Honstain, resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, pieced and sewed this quilt in 1867. It depicts her view of life before, during, and right after the Civil War. The quilt is familiarly known as the “Reconciliation Quilt,” and it fetched the record highest price for a quilt at auction ($264,000, at Sotheby’s in 1991).

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March 17 2014 11:15 AM

How Guests at Late 19th-Century Luxury Hotels Ordered Up Their Sherry and Manservants

This elaborate object is a “Teleseme,” manufactured by New York’s Herzog Teleseme Company and used in Paris’ Élysée Palace Hotel in the 1890s. The Teleseme was designed so that hotel guests could inform staff of a staggering array of wants and needs, without ever speaking with a person. Instructions asked guests to move the pointer, which could be collapsed and extended, to the square that represented their desire (“wine list,” “my maid,” “lemon squash”), and then push the button at the bottom.

March 14 2014 12:15 PM

Searching for the Farmers Who Posed for Government Photographers During the Depression

From 1935 to 1945, the government’s Farm Security Administration paid photographers to document conditions on farms across the United States. Some of the resulting images, made by artists including Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange, and Ben Shahn, have become iconic representations of life during the Depression. But the agency produced such a large number of photographs (the Library of Congress counts 175,000 negatives in their FSA collection) that it’s easy to lose track of the specificity of the lives that were being documented.

March 13 2014 9:45 AM

Interactive Map Shows Impact of WWII Firebombing of Japan, if It Had Happened on U.S. Soil

When we talk about the bombing of Japan during the World War II, we usually focus on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But before the atomic bombs, the United States had already begun a ruinous campaign of bombing Japanese cities with incendiary weapons. More than 40,000 tons of napalm bombs were dropped on Japanese cities before the atomic bombings took place.

March 11 2014 11:00 PM

Mark Twain's Recommended Reading for Young People

Mark Twain wrote this letter to Charles D. Crane, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Maine, in January 1887. Crane apparently asked Twain for book recommendations for a boy and a girl, as well as to name 12 of his own favorite authors.

March 11 2014 9:00 AM

An Itsy-Bitsy Early 18th-Century Pocket Globe

Among the many interesting historical globes photographed for Sylvia Sumira’s Globes: 400 Years of Exploration, Navigation, and Power are a few examples of pocket globes. Here is one made around 1715, by Johann Baptist Homann, a German mapmaker working in Nuremberg. It measures 2 ¾ inches in diameter.

March 10 2014 10:45 AM

The Exquisite Wistfulness of 19th-Century Vegetarian Personal Ads

These personal ads come from the Water-Cure Journal, which began publishing in 1845. (Some volumes of the journal are available through the Internet Archive.) In a section called “Matrimony,” placed at the back of the magazine alongside classified ads, the readers of the Water-Cure Journal advertised for soulmates who shared their commitment to vegetarianism.

March 7 2014 11:45 AM

The "Can't Get There From Here" Railroad Map of 1854 New England


This map shows the reach of railroad and telegraph infrastructure in New England in 1854. Notched lines signify extant railroads. Double lines show telegraph wires (often, if not always, built alongside and with the cooperation of railroads). A single line indicates railroads under construction.

March 6 2014 12:35 PM

Susan B. Anthony's Indictment for Voting While Female  

On Nov. 1, 1872, Susan B. Anthony convinced officials in Rochester, N.Y., to allow her to register to vote, arguing down their objections and threatening to sue them if they refused. Anthony cast a vote in the Nov. 5 election, selecting the straight Republican ticket, headed by Ulysses S. Grant.

March 5 2014 1:00 PM

The "Coffin Handbill" Andrew Jackson's Enemies Used to Circulate Word of His "Bloody Deeds"

In Slate earlier this week, Jillian Keenan argued that we should “kick Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill.” As this “coffin handbill,” distributed during the 1828 election, shows, the seventh President has long inspired such violent dislike.

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