The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Jan. 14 2015 12:24 PM

Pitching a Potential Donor, Shackleton Sketched This Expedition Map 

Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, gathering funds for his proposed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914, sketched this route map on a menu card to explain his plans to a prospective donor. It’s included in Tim Bryars and Tom Harper’s recent book, A History of the Twentieth Century in 100 Maps.

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Jan. 13 2015 12:29 PM

The Lucky Charms Soldiers Carried Into WWI 

During (and after) World War I, British folklorist Edward Lovett made a point of collecting examples of lucky charms and amulets that soldiers had carried to war. Some of these—included in a new book about the Imperial War Museum’s World War I collections, The First World War Galleries, by Paul Cornish—are below.

Jan. 9 2015 11:56 AM

Pretty Tree Maps Showing the State of American Forests in 1884 

These tree maps, commissioned by the United States Census and published in 1884, were compiled at the direction of dendrologist and horticulturist Charles Sprague Sargent. The complete set of sixteen maps, digitized by the David Rumsey Map Collection, represents American forests by genus of tree, density, and position. The USDA estimates that while the total area of forested land in the United States has diminished by 30 percent since the date of European settlement in 1630, “75 percent of net conversion to other uses occurred in the nineteenth century.” Sargent’s project was meant to capture the contours of the forest as it stood in the Victorian era. 

Jan. 7 2015 10:43 AM

The Beautiful Geometry of 18th-Century Forts, Built by Britain in the American Colonies

The Twitter feed @bldgblog recently shared some of these images of plans for eighteenth-century British forts in the Americas, from the online exhibition “The Geometry of War.” The exhibition, curated by Brian Leigh Dunnigan, associate director and curator of maps at the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library, contains maps from the library’s collection.


Jan. 6 2015 11:30 PM

So, What Was In That Boston Time Capsule? 

Tonight, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, conservators opened a box that was buried beneath the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in 1795. Samuel Adams, then governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, installed the box with the help of Paul Revere, then the Grand Master of the Freemasons of Massachusetts. The deposit contained two layers of historical material: one from 1795, and another from 1855, when the little repository was opened and cataloged, then re-assembled and augmented with new material from that time.

Jan. 6 2015 1:05 PM

A List of Diseases and Afflictions Suffered By Young Factory Workers in Chicago, 1895

This list from the 1895 book Hull-House Maps and Papers, put together by workers at Jane Addams’ Hull House, catalogs the results of medical examinations done on a group of Chicago children applying for certificates to continue their factory jobs.  

Jan. 5 2015 12:11 PM

How Photographers Tried to Capture the Terror of Night Zeppelin Raids During WWI

This “record” of a 1915 zeppelin raid on London is a fabrication, put together by an enterprising photographer looking to sell commemorative postcards to a British public understandably preoccupied by the airships’ attacks. Cameras of the time would have had difficulty capturing a zeppelin in the night sky, especially since the ships had to fly at high altitude to escape anti-aircraft fire.

Dec. 31 2014 10:18 AM

A Beautifully Illustrated Costume Catalog From 16th-Century France 

These pages are from a small 23-page book of costumes, Figures et fleures peintes, published in France around 1500. The whole book—which is text-free, featuring only illustrations—is available in digital form through Harvard University.  

Dec. 30 2014 12:58 PM

Five More Digital Archives and Historical Exhibits We Loved in 2014

Here are five more great digital history sites and archives, new to me in 2014. (To see the first five on my list, click here.)

Dec. 29 2014 2:21 PM

Five of 2014’s Most Compelling Digital History Exhibits and Archives 

Like 2013 before it, 2014 brought us a wealth of new digital archives and document-rich historical websites to peruse. Here, in no particular order, are five of the best such sites I saw this year. I’ll recommend five more tomorrow.