The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Nov. 16 2015 10:02 AM

A Midcentury Composer’s Luminous Rainbow Wheels Representing Music Through Color

Russian composer Ivan Wyschnegradsky was a 20th-century avant-garde pianist devoted to “creating a work capable of awakening in every man the slumbering forces of cosmic consciousness,” according to his journal. To achieve this mystical ideal, he set out to create sounds that no one had ever heard before. His music was microtonal, a style that transcends the limitations of the 12-scale tuning system in traditional Western music.

Nov. 13 2015 10:17 AM

How a Palestine Tourism Poster, Designed by a Jewish Artist in the 1930s, Took On New Meaning

In 1936, an Austrian Jew named Franz Krausz created this stylized view of Jerusalem's Old City. Krausz, who fled Europe during Hitler’s rise, designed a variety of posters for Zionist groups encouraging Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. This one is particularly arresting:​ the ancient, low-slung city rendered in a warm-hued Mediterranean palette​, crowned by the Dome of the Rock​.

Nov. 12 2015 9:28 AM

Maps Tracking Levels of Poverty in Victorian London, Block by Block

British businessman, philanthropist, and social reformer Charles Booth spent years gathering the data to produce these color-coded maps of London poverty, which he published as part of a huge project titled The Labor and Life of the People of London. (Labor and Life eventually comprised 17 volumes.) The library of the London School of Economics, which has produced an interactive mobile app with the Booth maps, has recently made this source material available in high resolution files, via Flickr.

Nov. 9 2015 10:46 AM

An Eloquent Baptist Protest Against Internment Camps During WWII 

This pamphlet, published by the American Baptist Home Mission Society in 1944 or 1945, pleads for "fair play" for Japanese-Americans. The interior of the pictorial booklet argues the point on two fronts, excerpting arguments from national newspapers ("Leading Papers Speak Up For It"), then offering a spread of photographs of Japanese-Americans working and playing alongside white Americans in various settings ("The People Practice It"). 

Nov. 6 2015 2:35 PM

A Depression-Era Zoo Housed Wolves and Three Species of Bears Together. It Didn’t End Well

In October, 1932, in Milwaukee's Washington Park Zoo, two young polar bears drowned a black bear in a pool, over the course of a half an hour. Hundreds of visitors gathered, as the group of animals that had been kept in a single enclosure—three grizzly bears, three polar bears, five black bears, and three wolves, in total—assembled to look on.

Nov. 4 2015 12:50 PM

These 18th- and 19th-Century “Dissected Maps” Were the First Jigsaw Puzzles

The Library of Congress has recently digitized a group of puzzle maps dating from the late 18th to the early 20th century. These "dissected maps" were the first generation of jigsaw puzzles; following the latest educational theories of the time, they were sold as tools to make learning fun. 

Nov. 2 2015 12:08 PM

A Striking Artifact of Casual Misogyny from the Early 20th Century

"Man and the horse-radish are most biting when grated," reads the Jean Paul Richter epigraph to this book of anti-female, anti-marriage quotations, published as a novelty item in 1903. The compliation, titled Bachelor Bigotries, offers bite-sized critiques of womankind for every day of the year, along with comic illustrations of put-upon married men. 

Oct. 30 2015 11:47 AM

A Moving Skeleton for Sale in Early-18th-Century London

The “Moving Skeleton” announced its first appearance “To all Gentlemen, Ladies, and others, who are Lovers of Curiosities” in the London Daily Courant in September 1716. By a “Mechanical Projection,” the skeleton emerged from an upright case with a spring-loaded door. A curtain then slowly rose to reveal a full human skeleton, holding an hourglass in one hand and a dart in the other. 

Oct. 28 2015 11:50 AM

Lyrical Engravings of Cyclists’ Adventures During The Sport’s Earliest Days

In a new book, Old Wheelways: Traces of Bicycle History on the Land, historian Robert L. McCullough writes about cyclists' explorations of the American landscape in the late nineteenth century. The book is filled with engravings that originally appeared in cycling publications like The Wheelman and Outing, cataloging the social world of bicycle enthusiasts, along with the landscapes and infrastructure that adventuresome cyclists observed on their treks through countrysides and cities. 

Oct. 27 2015 12:51 PM

The 37 Basic Plots, According to a Screenwriter of the Silent-Film Era 

In his 1919 manual for screenwriters, Ten Million Photoplay Plots, Wycliff Aber Hill provided this taxonomy of possible types of dramatic "situations," first running them down in outline form, then describing each more completely and offering possible variations. Hill, who published more than one aid to struggling "scenarists," positioned himself as an authority on the types of stories that would work well on screen.