The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

March 10 2015 11:31 AM

A 19th-Century Japanese View of London, by an Artist Who’d Never Been There

Utagawa Yoshitora’s 1866 prints “Igirisukoku Rondon no zu” form a triptych view of London. Together, the three images depict a street scene near the River Thames, complete with thronging English pedestrians, two sailing ships, horses, oxen, and carriages.

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March 5 2015 9:25 AM

Mark Twain’s Memory Builder Game Will (Probably Not) Help You Learn Historical Dates 

This game, patented by Mark Twain in 1885, is a learning aid meant to help students practice historical knowledge. Professor of English Stephen Railton writes that Twain, an amateur inventor who came up with the idea for the game while finishing the manuscript of Huck Finn, “conceived the game as a way to help his daughters learn historical dates, but it quickly grew in his mind into a marketable commodity.” 

March 3 2015 12:49 PM

A Tragic Catalog of 100 Mostly Miserable 19th-Century Marriages 

This survey of the outcomes of 100 marriages, conducted by German doctor Anton Gross-Hoffinger and published in Leipzig in 1847, was reprinted in early sexologist Iwan Bloch’s book The Sexual Life of Our Time in Its Relations to Modern Civilization, first published in 1907.

Feb. 27 2015 11:46 AM

A Tourist Map of Occupied Paris, Issued to German Soldiers During WWII

This map, published in October 1940, was used by German troops on leave in occupied Paris. The city, under German control since June of that year, served as a relatively calm location for soldiers to take R&R. Distributed by the city’s military governor, the map directed visiting troops to take in the traditional sights of Paris: “Eiffelturm,” “Notre-Dame,” “Luxembourg Palast.”

Feb. 26 2015 10:12 AM

“Put Someone in Charge of His Liquor” and Other Foreign-Service Rules for Handling William Faulkner 

Although at first he didn’t even want to go to Stockholm to collect his 1950 Nobel Prize—his farm wasn’t going to take care of itself!— William Faulkner became one of America’s most important Cold War cultural ambassadors. He and other traveling luminaries like Martha Graham, John Updike, andLouis Armstrong were living proof that America wasn’t just Mickey Mouse and chewing gum.

Feb. 25 2015 11:44 AM

A 1964 Document Tallying Penalties for Sodomy and Fornication Across the United States

This 1964 document, from the archives of the Mattachine Society of New York at the New York Public Library, details the legal penalties at the time for sodomy, fornication, adultery, and cohabitation in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. The NYPL’s Jason Baumann hypothesizes that the document may have been distributed for discussion at the 1964 Eastern Conference of Homophile Organizations, held in Washington.

Feb. 20 2015 11:06 AM

Wild, Weird, and Funny Austin Music Posters of the 1960s and 1970s

A new book collects music posters printed in Austin between 1967 and 1982, as the city's music and underground art scenes flourished. Homegrown: Austin Music Posters 1967 to 1982 tracks the shifting aesthetics of Texan poster artists responding to psychedelia, rock, and punk.

Feb. 18 2015 9:36 AM

Delicately Preserved Slices of Wood Illustrating a Late-19th-Century Book of American Forests

Between 1888 and 1929, physician and botanist Romeyn Beck Hough published most of a massive multi-volume catalog: The American Woods: exhibited by actual specimens and with copious explanatory text.After Hough died, his daughter Marjorie Galloway Hough completed as much of the project as her father’s research allowed.

Feb. 13 2015 2:47 PM

A Forgotten History of Anti-Sikh Violence in the Early-20th-Century Pacific Northwest

When Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal spoke last month of a Muslim “invasion” of the United States, he stood on sadly familiar ground in American history. The “Yellow Peril” fears of the late nineteenth century are well known, but few remember the “Dusky Peril” that soon followed—the anxiety caused by South East Asian immigration to the Pacific Northwest.

Feb. 13 2015 9:49 AM

Form-Letter Valentines for 19th-Century Lovers

In his Fashionable Gentleman’s Valentine Writer for 1828, British publisher Thomas Richardson gave readers text of sample valentines to use in conducting affairs of the heart. (Richardson published a companion volume for the ladies who wished to initiate romantic correspondence themselves.)