Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Nov. 19 2014 12:36 PM

Beautiful, Terrible Watercolors of a 19th-Century Whale Hunt, Found in a Ship’s Logbook 

After exhausting the fisheries around New England, 19th-century whaling ships needed to go farther afield, taking years-long journeys to distant oceans to find their prey. “These extended trips offered more leisure time,” the curators of a new exhibition of whaling artwork at the Providence Public Library write, “and many whalemen chose to fill that time in artistic pursuits.”

Video Advertisement

Nov. 18 2014 12:58 PM

A WWII Ration Book Issued to FDR

This ration book, issued to President Franklin Roosevelt, can be found in the President’s papers at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. The Roosevelts adhered to mandatory rationing along with other voluntary wartime homefront initiatives, like planting a Victory garden and installing blackout curtains on the White House. The standard ration book includes coupons for staples like flour, wheat, sugar, and meat.

Nov. 14 2014 1:22 PM

Gently Sexy Boudoir Stereographs for Use in Victorian Parlors

These mildly provocative stereographs were marketed for parlor use in the late 19th century. Used with a stereoscope, the side-by-side images would render in 3D. (If you happen to have a pair of 3D glasses, you can use them while looking at the stereographs’ page on the Library Company’s website, to mimic the effect.)

Nov. 13 2014 1:36 PM

A Quaker Printer’s Early–19th-Century Attempt to Convince New Yorkers of the Horrors of Slavery

Quaker printer Samuel Wood, active in New York in the early 19th century, published and sold this graphic broadside depicting the sufferings of enslaved people in the West Indies.

Nov. 12 2014 2:34 PM

How One 17th-Century Artist Produced a Good Painting of an Animal He’d Never Seen

The best early-modern European picture of a hippopotamus comes from the hand of the celebrated Baroque painter Pieter Paul Rubens. Until 1800, this 1616 painting remained the only realistic image of this fearsome animal to be produced north of the Mediterranean.

Nov. 11 2014 2:48 PM

Delightful 17th-Century Traveling Library Packs 40 Volumes Into One

Closed, the leather outer case of this 17th-century traveling library looks like an oversized book. Its shelves contain 40 small volumes, bound in vellum. The blue-painted frontispiece, opposite its shelves, catalogs the contents; the small books bear no titles on their spines.

Nov. 7 2014 12:14 PM

A Depression-Era Map Showing the Robust State of College Football in 1938

By 1938, when this map was printed, college football was in its seventh decade and had already been the subject of much speculation and analysis, with onlookers fretting over the party culture surrounding it on campuses, investigating the amateur status (or lack thereof) of its players, and scrutinizing its recruitment practices. As the abundance of teams and their widespread geographical distribution shows, neither that scrutiny nor the initial reduction in ticket sales that the first years of the Depression brought had affected the sport’s popularity.


Nov. 6 2014 12:19 PM

How 19th-Century Doctors Used Daguerreotypes for Consultation on Difficult Cases 

During the 19th century, physicians used photographs as consultation tools and treated patient photographs as prized collectable objects. Southern physician Edward Archelaus Flewellen sent this daguerreotype of A.P Jackson—one of the earliest surviving consultation photographs—to the famed surgeon Valentine Mott in 1856. Flewellen had been Mott’s student in New York, but returned to practice medicine in Thomaston, Ga. The patient, who was photographed by a local daguerreotypist, was a 33-year-old mechanic who developed a tumor (what Flewellen diagnosed as a case of “subcutaneous aneurism by anastomosis”) over his right eye when he was very young.  

Nov. 4 2014 11:24 AM

Joyful 1930s Photos of Off-Duty Ballet Dancers at the Beach

In 1931, George Balanchine, who was ballet master and choreographer for the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, recruited “baby ballerina” Irina Baronova, a 13-year-old dancer of Russian birth. The company wanted to be modern in its approach, looking to put together quick, smart productions with smaller budgets, less frippery, and more modern choreography than the established companies. Hoping for freshness and flexibility, Balanchine cast very young ballerinas.

Nov. 3 2014 3:24 PM

A Melancholy List of Edgar Allan Poe’s Debts, From His Bankruptcy Petition of 1842

Edgar Allan Poe filed for bankruptcy in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in December 1842, appending this list of creditors and debts to his petition. The writer, who supported a sick wife and a mother-in-law and lacked the backstop of family money, was constantly scraping for sufficient funds. This list shows just how extensive his array of debts was in the early 1840s.