The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

May 22 2015 11:31 AM

“Caveat Emptor!”: The First Anti-Slavery Pamphlet Published in New England

Samuel Sewall, a prominent minister and magistrate, published this tract in Boston in 1700, responding to a public controversy over the status of Adam, an enslaved servant held by another magistrate, John Saffin. Saffin had promised Adam his freedom and then reneged on his pledge. Adam contested Saffin's actions in court, and the dispute went on for three years; Adam and his wife finally became free in 1703. 

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May 20 2015 11:37 AM

A 16th-Century GIF Tour of the Inside of the Brain

German physician Georg Bartisch's book Ophthalmodouleia, That is the Service of the Eye, published in 1583, includes 91 wood cuts illustrating then-current principles of ophthamology. The Duke University Library's Tumblr recently featured this GIF made from one of the wood cuts, which tours the reader through the skull and brain using a series of flaps that simulate dissection. 

May 18 2015 12:04 PM

The Funny Found Poetry of Early-20th-Century Typeface Demos 

This collection of type specimen pages, published in 1910 by the Keystone Type Foundry of Philadelphia, demonstrates the appearance of the company's type when used to produce headlines of various sizes. In the foundry's choice of demonstration headlines, a strangely poetic vision of daily life in 1910 emerges. 

May 15 2015 1:44 PM

Luminous Lantern Slides of Blackfeet Tipis on the Prairies of Montana in the Early 20th Century

This group of lantern slides by photographer Walter McClintock depicts Blackfoot tipis in Montana, between 1896 and 1914. Many of the McClintock lantern slides have been digitized and are available through Yale's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

May 13 2015 12:57 PM

A Depression-Era Medicinal Plant Map of the United States

This map of medicinal plants depicts one or two important species that grew in each state in 1932, identifying the plant as native or cultivated, and describing its medical uses. A few species of seaweed float in the map's Atlantic Ocean, and the border identifies important medicinal plants from around the world. 

May 11 2015 12:13 PM

"U Tr?": A Glossary of Abbreviations Used by Early-20th-Century Telegraph Operators 

This list of abbreviations for telegraphic transmission, from a 1901 textbook, shows how operators increased the speed of communications by streamlining the messages they sent and received. By the time George M. Dodge published this book, telegraphy abbreviations had been evolving for half a century, along with the profession. 

May 8 2015 12:30 PM

An Early-19th-Century Scientist’s Close-Up Portraits of Pollen 

German chemist and botanist Carl Julius Fritzsche observed and depicted these grains of pollen from flowering plants using a microscope set at around 500x magnification. Fritzsche cataloged pollen grains from different angles, trying to understand their structure, and published his findings in an 1837 book, Ueber den Pollen (About Pollen). 


May 6 2015 12:15 PM

How Proponents of Forced Sterilization Convinced Everyday Californians to Support Their Cause

The Human Betterment Foundation, which operated in California between 1929 and 1942, researched the effects of eugenic sterilization and created and distributed literature arguing for the practice's benefits. This 1938 pamphlet makes the case for state-imposed sterilization to readers who might have moral qualms, arguing that the practice was widespread, highly cost-effective, and approved by the families of the people who had been sterilized.

May 4 2015 10:51 AM

Audubon’s Animals of 19th-Century North America, Newly Available for Hi-Res Download

The University of Michigan's Special Collections Library has digitized its copy of naturalist John James Audubon's The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, originally published between 1845 and 1848. This collection of scans of public-domain material is hi-res, and the library is making the files available for free download and use, with attribution. (Plates from Audubon's more famous Birds of America are also available through the library's website.) 

May 1 2015 10:17 AM

Bright 1970 Cuban Propaganda Posters Urging Solidarity With Vietnam

These posters by Cuban artist Felix René Mederos Pazos were the product of a trip Mederos took to Vietnam in 1969, on assignment from the Cuban government's Department of Revolutionary Orientation.