The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

May 2 2016 2:20 PM

Finding the Poetry in Walt Whitman’s Newly Rediscovered Health Advice

On Friday, the journal Walt Whitman Quarterly Review published a special issue reprinting a series of journalistic treatises by Whitman, expounding on the nature of health. "Manly Health and Training," written under the pseudonym "Mose Velsor" and published in installments in the New York Atlas in 1858, is 47,000 words long, and you can read the whole thing here

April 27 2016 2:33 PM

A WWI–Era Memo Asking French Officers to Practice Jim Crow With Black American Troops

In this memo published by W.E.B. DuBois in the NAACP's magazine the Crisis in 1919, a French liaison to the American military in France counsels French officers on the proper treatment of black American troops. The memo, signed by Colonel J.L.A. Linard of the American Expeditionary Force Headquarters, voices white American concerns that black soldiers and officers working with the French were being treated with too much "familiarity and indulgence."  

April 22 2016 3:02 PM

A Trove of Newly-Digitized Trademarks Offers A Capsule History of Late-19th-Century California

The California State Archives recently announced that it has digitized thousands of trademark applications filed with the state between 1861 and 1900. California passed a trademark law in 1863, years before the first federal trademark legislation. The state acted in part, writes the State Archives, to regulate the "explosion of commerce after the Gold Rush." 

April 18 2016 2:13 PM

Some Surviving Receipts for Taxes Paid in 18th-Century England and Scotland

This small group of receipts for taxes paid in the United Kingdom, before the institution of an income tax in 1799, show how land, real estate, and other property translated into money owed in the last decade of the 18th century. 

April 15 2016 2:09 PM

An Affectionate 1932 Illustrated Map of Harlem Nightlife

Yale's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library just acquired this original pen-and-brush version of E. Simms Campbell's nightlife map of Harlem, from 1932. The map, drawn by an illustrator who frequented many of the establishments he depicted, exudes an insider's pride in the robust music scene in full swing during the Harlem Renaissance.

April 11 2016 8:58 AM

Some Delightfully Scatological and Cruel Nursery Rhymes, From the Oldest Surviving Book of Them

The British Library holds this 1744 book of nursery rhymes, Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, which was sold in London and is the oldest surviving published collection in the genre. Some of the rhymes inTommy Thumb's are still familiar; others, like the wonderful "Piss a Bed," have dropped out of circulation. 

April 6 2016 2:26 PM

Poignant Petitions From 19th-Century Mothers Hoping to Surrender Illegitimate Children

The petitions below come from a recently concluded exhibition, "The Fallen Woman," at London's Foundling Museum. In the pair of 19th-century documents, two unmarried mothers, Damaris Phillips and Anne Giddings, ask the Foundling Hospital to take their illegitimate children into its care. Both petitions were rejected. 

April 5 2016 10:10 AM

A 19th-Century 3-D Bird’s-Eye Map of Mt. Fuji, With All the Bells and Whistles  

This woodblock print map of Japan's Mt. Fuji, which can be folded to represent the mountain's iconic conical shape, was produced by an unknown publisher sometime around 1848. Writing about the map in the new book Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps, Miyazaki Fumiko speculates that the item may have been printed and sold by oshi, traveling performers and acolytes from Yoshida, one starting point for pilgrimages up the mountain.

April 1 2016 11:07 AM

A ’70s Board Game Designed to Teach Players About Race, Housing, and Privilege

In May 2012, science-fiction writer and blogger John Scalzi published a post titled "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is." "I've been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word 'privilege,' to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon," Scalzi wrote. His solution: an extended metaphor drawn from role-playing games.

March 28 2016 1:17 PM

100-Year-Old Frost Maps Show How Climate Change Has Shifted the Growing Season in the United States

Published in a 1936 Atlas of American Agriculture, put together by the United States Department of Agriculture, these 1916 maps of the average dates of first killing frosts in fall and last killing frosts in spring were initially intended to help farmers plan their planting schedules. Now, the maps offer a rough gauge showing how much these dates have shifted over a century.