The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Feb. 5 2015 9:36 AM

Biographical Cartoons of Notable Black Americans, Drawn to Promote Unity During WWII

Black artist Charles Alston produced these mockups of cartoons for the Office of War Information during World War II. The finished products were sent to black newspapers for publication, and were meant to urge their readerships to support the war effort. Alston’s other nonbiographical cartoons illustrated standard Office of War Information exhortations to conserve needed commodities, enlist, and buy war bonds.

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Feb. 4 2015 10:35 AM

An Anti-Suffrage Children’s Book From 1910, Mocking “Baby” Activists

Anti-suffrage literature printed in the 1910s, as suffrage activists in the United States ramped up their campaign for enfranchisement, took a number of clever forms. Advocates like the members of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage tried to portray a desire for the franchise as foreign to women’s nature. (See, for example, the many anti-suffrage postcards that used humor to police gender roles, mocking women who wanted to vote as unnaturally aggressive and their husbands as unmanly.)

Feb. 3 2015 9:14 AM

Late 19th-Century Maps Show Measles Mortality Before Vaccines

These maps of measles mortality appeared in three late-nineteenth-century statistical atlases published by the Census Office. Experiments in data visualization, the atlases are modern in their scope and ambition. Since they were compiled in a time before the availability of vaccines for most childhood diseases (with smallpox being the exception), they are a good record of the former pervasiveness of measles.

Feb. 2 2015 1:14 PM

The Slips of Paper That Called 19th-Century Militias to Muster 

These muster notices were sent to eligible citizens in New England towns, calling them to come parade with their militia on an appointed day. Delivered on partial sheets of paper, and printed using the nineteenth-century equivalent of clip art (standard images of soldiers and eagles), the notices warned enrolled men of the need to bring the arms and uniforms required by the state.

Jan. 30 2015 10:07 AM

The Papers Late-19th-Century Chinese Immigrants Had to Carry To Prove Their Legal Status

As of the 1892 passage of the Geary Act, which extended the decade-old Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants living in the United States were required to carry identification papers at all times. Here are four examples of such papers, carried by men who worked as laborers and farmers in California; they are part of a larger Flickr group of documents issued between 1894 and 1897, and held by the California Historical Society.

Jan. 28 2015 11:55 AM

Jefferson’s Outline of the Differences Between Northerners and Southerners 

In a 1785 letter to the Marquis de Chastellux, a French writer and historian who fought on the colonists’ side during the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson outlined the dominant personal qualities he saw emerging in the population of the new country’s northern and southern states. Chastellux was working ona book about his travels through the new States; he had sent Jefferson the part of this work-in-progress pertaining to Virginia, for his review.

Jan. 27 2015 9:22 AM

A Victorian Argument That Snow Is Holy, Illustrated by a Beautiful Catalog of Flakes 

These plates, cataloging the geometrical forms of snowflakes, are from an 1863 book called Snow-flakes: A Chapter from the Book of Nature, published by the American Tract Society in Boston. I first saw the images on the Public Domain Review.

Jan. 23 2015 10:01 AM

The Info-Dense Maps Civilians Used to Follow WWII From the Home Front

These bright Dated Events War Maps, issued in 1942, 1944, and 1945, are by Toronto artist Stanley TurnerOther Turner war maps digitized by the David Rumsey Map Collection are also dated between 1942 and 1945. Each offers readers a packed visual guide to the recent happenings of the global war.

Jan. 22 2015 9:54 AM

The Documents That Trapped Poor Southern Farmers in a Dangerous Form of Debt

A commonplace of Southern rural life in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, these long forgotten promissory documents, nicknamed “guano notes,” are among the most unique forms of debt in American history. 

Jan. 21 2015 2:32 PM

Beguiling 19th-Century Space Art, Made by a Self-Taught Astronomical Observer

Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, a French-American artist and amateur astronomer, published these drawings of celestial subjects as chromolithographs in 1881. Trouvelot was a scientist without formal training, whose primary occupation was artist, nature illustrator, and printmaker.