The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

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. 

Oct. 23 2015 11:39 AM

Broody, Dramatic 20th-Century Posters Promoting Productions of Hamlet

In a new book, Presenting Shakespeare: 1,100 Posters From Around the World, Mirko Ilić and Steven Heller group examples of advertising art by Shakespeare play. Their Hamlet chapter is full of particularly lovely artistic interpretations, drawing from the moody source material of the play itself. 

Oct. 21 2015 12:12 PM

Early Aviation in Italy, As Seen Through the Enraptured Lens of a Futurist Pilot

World War I pilot Fédèle Azari spent the decade after the war making airplane-related art as part of the Italian Futurist movement. These photos, part of a group of Azari's images that have been digitized and made available through the J. Paul Getty Museum's Open Content Program, reflect Azari's vision of aviation as a gorgeous, transcendent art form. 

Oct. 19 2015 11:56 AM

An Early-20th-Century British Map of the Global Drug Trade 

This map of trade in opium and other drugs appeared in J.G. Bartholomew's Atlas of the World's Commerce, published in London in 1907. The book offered maps of infrastructure, communications, and exports, accompanied by statistical diagrams and interpretations; the David Rumsey Map Collection has digitized the atlas, and you can view the rest of it here.

Oct. 16 2015 10:53 AM

An Early-20th-Century Globe Promoting the Fantasy of a Socialist Culture on Mars

In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed a network of dark streaks on the surface of Mars. He called them canali (meaning “natural channels”) and transposed them onto the first detailed modern map of the Red Planet. Because the English translation canal implies a manmade waterway, Schiaparelli’s drawings were misinterpreted as evidence for an intelligent Martian civilization that tapped polar icecaps to irrigate its barren landscape. The theory took off.

Oct. 15 2015 9:22 AM

How Cultured Are You, by 1950s Standards? 

The three questionnaires below come from Ashley Montagu's 1958 book, The Cultured Man. Montagu—a well-respected anthropologist and former student of Franz Boas, who was influential in his profession's midcentury rejection of the idea of innate racial hierarchywrote many popular books, of which The Cultured Man is one. 

Oct. 12 2015 1:47 PM

A Swiss Artist’s Sensitive Early-19th-Century Portraits of Native American Life 

Prince Maximilian Alexander Philipp of Wied-Neuwied, a German nobleman and largely self-taught naturalist, used his family's capital to lead an expedition to Brazil in 1815. In the early 1830s, Maximilian decided to go to North America to carry out a similar trip, with the hope of observing Native American life and comparing it to the study he had made of indigenous people in Brazil. 

Oct. 9 2015 10:23 AM

A Sailor’s Annotated Map of the Pacific Illustrates a Tour of Duty During WWII 

This map, annotated by Navy signalman Homer Bluford Clonts, tracks the geographical trajectory of the sailor's service on the USS Sheridan and the USS Eldorado, from 1943 to 1945. Clonts kept notes on the back of the map, registering when the ships he was on crossed the International Date Line, took important personnel like the Secretary of the Navy on board, or saw action. 

Oct. 7 2015 11:29 AM

Modernist Posters That Taught 1930s Kids How to Take Good Care of Books 

This group of five posters by graphic artist Arlington Gregg, commissioned during the latter half of the 1930s by the Illinois division of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project, instruct young library patrons in good book hygiene. On each, an impish figure demonstrates the negative behavior that book-lovers should strive to avoid.

Oct. 5 2015 12:21 PM

Beautiful Early-20th-Century Watercolors of Apple Varieties You Don’t See Much Anymore

The USDA's National Agricultural Library offers a digital collection of pomological watercolors—illustrations of fruit cultivars commonly grown between the years 1886 and 1942. In those years, the department's Division of Pomology employed 21 artists to document fruit varieties in images that were then lithographed and used in USDA informational publications.