The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Aug. 20 2015 1:23 PM

A Detailed Brochure for an 1855 Slave Auction Shows How People Were Sold as Property  

This 1855 brochure for a New Orleans slave auction staged by the firm of J.A. Beard & May shows how dealers represented the personal qualities, work history, and physical attributes of enslaved people who were up for sale. In this auction, two plantations' labor "gangs" were to be split up and sold by the heirs of deceased planter and investor William M. Lambeth. (The brochure was digitized by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, and is available via the Internet Archive.)

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Aug. 17 2015 12:14 PM

The Roads Around Late-18th-Century London, Mapped in Close-Up Detail   

These strip maps of roads around London come from an atlas printed in 1790 by mapmaker John Cary. For travelers moving on foot or on horseback, the level of local information in Cary's maps allowed for better planning of stops and provisioning. Each map named the owners of the houses to be found along the way, and designated sites of public houses, inns, and bridges. 

Aug. 14 2015 2:31 PM

A Lovely 19th-Century Illustrated Book of Japanese Falconry

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has digitized the pages of this 1860s book of falconry in Japan, which is titled Ehon taka kagami, or An Illustrated Mirror of Falconry. The woodcuts by Kawanabe Kyôsai (or Gyôsai) depict equipment and training methods, as well as many beautiful Siberian goshawks, the species that 19th-century Japanese falconers favored. 


Aug. 12 2015 1:10 PM

How to Hide Well: WWII-Era Advice From the British Special Operations Executive Guide

This candid guide to hiding in plain sight is drawn from the official training booklet of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Aug. 10 2015 11:07 AM

Midcentury Cartoons for Worried Print Journalists 

In the late 1950s, TV news was on the rise, as more and more Americans (nearly 90 percent of them, in fact) were buying sets. As broadcasters competed with print journalists for breaking news, writers for newspapers and magazines were rethinking their role as storytellers and interpreters.

Aug. 7 2015 1:44 PM

Graceful Minimalist Diagrams of Early-20th-Century Olympic High Dives   

These pretty diagrams of types of high dives performed in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm are from the official report summarizing the events of the games, published in 1913. (The book has been digitized by the University of Toronto and is available in full on the Internet Archive.) 


Aug. 6 2015 1:26 PM

Five Panoramic Photographs of the Ruins of Hiroshima 

Seventy years after the bombing of Hiroshima, this group of five panoramic photos held by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum shows how the city looked in the fall of 1945, when groups of physicians, scientists, and photographers surveyed and documented the aftereffects and the city's recovery efforts.

Aug. 4 2015 1:00 PM

Drawings of Apache Life, Made by a Prisoner of War in the Late 19th Century

Chicago's Newberry Library has digitized a series of ink and watercolor drawings of Apache life, made in the 1890s by Frederick Gokliz. Gokliz, a San Carlos Apache, was first imprisoned along with a group of Chiricahua Apaches at Fort Marion, in Florida, in 1886. 

July 31 2015 12:29 PM

A Delightful 1912 Children’s Book About a Wayward Rocket

The Rocket Book, by Peter Newell, was published in 1912 by Harper & Brothers. The story is similar to that of Newell's The Hole Book (1908). In both volumes, a naughty child sets off a projectile, which careens through various spaces, leaving surprised onlookers in its wake. (In The Hole Book, the projectile was a bullet.) 

July 30 2015 8:56 AM

Americans Recovering from the Civil War Loved These Bloodless, Beautiful Battle Scenes

During the 1880s, Chicago printmakers Louis Kurz and Alexander Allison published a series of 35 commemorative chromolithographs of Civil War battles. Twenty years after the end of the war, the collectible prints sold well; Americans eager for closure appreciated their heroic perspective on the conflict.