The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

March 23 2015 11:33 AM

A 1935 Historical Map of Shanghai, Designed by an Enthusiastic Resident Expat

Carl Crow, an American journalist and adman who lived in Shanghai for twenty-five years, designed this historical map of the city in 1935. Crow was a ceaseless promoter of China in general and Shanghai in particular, and the map illustrates his vision of a "cosmopolitan" city where American, French, British, and Chinese cultures mixed. 

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March 20 2015 12:04 PM

Bloody Accounts of Steamboat Disasters, Sold to Tourists on the 19th-Century Mississippi 

Publisher James T. Lloyd's 1856 book Lloyd's Steamboat Directory, and Disasters on the Western Waters, is illustrated by 32 woodcuts of explosions, fires, and foundering ships, chronicling a decades-long history of steamboat mayhem. (The whole book is digitally available via the Library of Congress, on the Internet Archive.) 

March 19 2015 1:38 PM

Sumptuous 1920s Art Nouveau Prints of Insects From Around the World

E.A. Séguy, a French artist, created these prints of insects in the 1920s and sold them in pattern books to others who might use them for inspiration in coming up with designs for textiles or wallpaper. Like other work in the Art Nouveau tradition, Seguy's images look to nature for inspiration, adopting a crowded, colorful aesthetic. Given their strongly geometrical aspect, his insects might also inspire designers working in the newer Art Deco style. 

March 16 2015 12:04 PM

A Telephone Map of the United States Shows Where You Could Call Using Ma Bell in 1910

There were 5.8 million telephones in the Bell/AT&T network in 1910, when this map was published. It shows the uneven development of early telephone service in the United States, and gives us a sense of which places could speak to each other over Bell’s long-distance lines in the first decade of the twentieth century.           

March 13 2015 11:44 AM

The Two-Page Plot Outline a Writer of the Hardy Boys Series Used to Crank Out a Book

In this two-page outline for the 1927 Hardy Boys’ mystery The House on the Cliff, Edward Stratemeyer directed writer Leslie Macfarlane in the construction of the plot of the second book in the franchise’s original series. The book was officially published as the work of Franklin W. Dixon, a fictional author whose name appears on all of the Hardy Boys books.  


March 11 2015 11:30 AM

How a Jewish Rescuer Smuggled Hundreds of Jews Out of Poland During WWII

Ben Zion Kalb (later named Colb) was 29 years old when the Germans invaded Poland in September, 1939. After a violent encounter with a German policeman, Kalb realized that Poland had become unsafe for Jews, and escaped to Slovakia. (This country, while allied with the Axis powers and initially complicit with the deportation of its Jewish citizens, refused to allow deportations after October, 1942.)

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.

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.”