Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Nov. 12 2014 2:34 PM

How One 17th-Century Artist Produced a Good Painting of an Animal He’d Never Seen

The best early-modern European picture of a hippopotamus comes from the hand of the celebrated Baroque painter Pieter Paul Rubens. Until 1800, this 1616 painting remained the only realistic image of this fearsome animal to be produced north of the Mediterranean.

Video Advertisement

Nov. 11 2014 2:48 PM

Delightful 17th-Century Traveling Library Packs 40 Volumes Into One

Closed, the leather outer case of this 17th-century traveling library looks like an oversized book. Its shelves contain 40 small volumes, bound in vellum. The blue-painted frontispiece, opposite its shelves, catalogs the contents; the small books bear no titles on their spines.

Nov. 7 2014 12:14 PM

A Depression-Era Map Showing the Robust State of College Football in 1938

By 1938, when this map was printed, college football was in its seventh decade and had already been the subject of much speculation and analysis, with onlookers fretting over the party culture surrounding it on campuses, investigating the amateur status (or lack thereof) of its players, and scrutinizing its recruitment practices. As the abundance of teams and their widespread geographical distribution shows, neither that scrutiny nor the initial reduction in ticket sales that the first years of the Depression brought had affected the sport’s popularity.


Nov. 6 2014 12:19 PM

How 19th-Century Doctors Used Daguerreotypes for Consultation on Difficult Cases 

During the 19th century, physicians used photographs as consultation tools and treated patient photographs as prized collectable objects. Southern physician Edward Archelaus Flewellen sent this daguerreotype of A.P Jackson—one of the earliest surviving consultation photographs—to the famed surgeon Valentine Mott in 1856. Flewellen had been Mott’s student in New York, but returned to practice medicine in Thomaston, Ga. The patient, who was photographed by a local daguerreotypist, was a 33-year-old mechanic who developed a tumor (what Flewellen diagnosed as a case of “subcutaneous aneurism by anastomosis”) over his right eye when he was very young.  

Nov. 4 2014 11:24 AM

Joyful 1930s Photos of Off-Duty Ballet Dancers at the Beach

In 1931, George Balanchine, who was ballet master and choreographer for the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, recruited “baby ballerina” Irina Baronova, a 13-year-old dancer of Russian birth. The company wanted to be modern in its approach, looking to put together quick, smart productions with smaller budgets, less frippery, and more modern choreography than the established companies. Hoping for freshness and flexibility, Balanchine cast very young ballerinas.

Nov. 3 2014 3:24 PM

A Melancholy List of Edgar Allan Poe’s Debts, From His Bankruptcy Petition of 1842

Edgar Allan Poe filed for bankruptcy in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in December 1842, appending this list of creditors and debts to his petition. The writer, who supported a sick wife and a mother-in-law and lacked the backstop of family money, was constantly scraping for sufficient funds. This list shows just how extensive his array of debts was in the early 1840s.

Oct. 31 2014 8:12 AM

Commemorative Illustrations Showing Off the Gorgeous Parades of Late-Medieval Germany

These images of late-medieval and early-modern parade entrants come from the city of Nuremberg, in Bavaria (present-day Germany). The manuscript, created in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century and available online through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s digital collections, contains illustrations of parade participants, jousting contestants, and pageant sleighs. It’s a historical work, recording memories of events held in Nuremberg from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries.

Oct. 30 2014 11:06 AM

“Love Your Government, Or Else.” A Civil War-Era Infographic With a Mission.

This diagram of the structure of the federal government, created by Cincinnati lawyer N. Mendal Shafer in 1861, aims to end the conflict between North and South through education. “The object” of the chart, Shafer writes, “is to make the subject of Government familiar to the masses.” Familiarity, he intimates, would solve the problems that the nation was experiencing; the implication is that secessionists (and, perhaps, people living in the North who didn’t support the war) just didn’t comprehend the government’s purpose. “When the subjects of government and political economy are well understood by the American people,” Shafer writes, “peace, happiness, prosperity, and security will follow.”

Oct. 29 2014 11:09 AM

The Black Humor of WWI Soldiers, in a Parody Form Letter to Wives

This wry form letter, found in the World War I diary of Captain Neil Cantlie of the British Royal Army Medical Corps, parodies the content of a typical letter to a wife, commenting on censorship restrictions as well as the inherent absurdity of trying to describe the situation on the front for those at home.

Oct. 28 2014 12:06 PM

Etiquette Lessons for the Annoying Moviegoers of Early Cinema

After I wrote a few weeks ago about lantern slides used to advertise coming attractions in the silent-movie era, the people who run the blog for the history podcast BackStory contacted me to make sure I’d seen this post, featuring humorous theatre etiquette slides from 1912. The slides, which would have been projected before the show or during intermission, forbid some of the behaviors that theatre owners saw as problematic in early movie audiences: whistling, talking, bothering women, and wearing tall hats.