The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

June 1 2015 11:27 AM

Can You Name These Famous Landmarks from Their Floor Plans?

Over on Brow Beat we’ve challenged you to name songs from their first second and paintings from small details. But can you identify famous landmarks just by looking at their blueprints? Give your spatial reasoning abilities a workout with our hard but fun architecture quiz.

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May 29 2015 1:07 PM

Gorgeous Nature-Themed Stained-Glass Mosaics, Sold to Victorian Builders

In an 1886 catalog, the Belcher Mosaic Glass Company advertised stained-glass windows to late-19th-century homeowners and businesses. Belcher catered to Victorian tastes with these sample designs, leaning heavily on natural motifs. 

May 27 2015 2:35 PM

Advice For Late–19th-Century Rubes About To Visit Chicago

This list of advice for travelers to large cities was reprinted in a Chicago guidebook published in 1888. The list advises rural dwellers, used to life in a place less packed with people, on ways that they could avoid becoming a mark for con men or an annoyance to the more savvy city folk around them. 

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. 

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).