The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

April 27 2015 3:13 PM

A Gorgeous Rainbow 19th-Century Geological Map of Europe 

This stunning geological map of Europe was produced in 1875 by Andre Dumont, a Belgian scientist and mapmaker. Dumont, who previously published a geological map of Belgium that took him 20 years to complete, was one of the first cartographers to successfully deploy the techniques of chromolithographic printing to represent geology in vibrant color. The map, which folds up into a case, is composed of 24 sections. 

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April 24 2015 11:05 AM

The Books Virginia Colonists Were Buying in the Decade Before the Revolution

This list of books sold in the post office of Williamsburg, Virginia, which was printed sometime in the 1760s, gives a sense of the kind of reading material people living in the capital of the Colony of Virginia were consuming in the decade before the American Revolution. 

April 22 2015 12:39 PM

A 1905 Rendition of the 23rd Psalm, Gorgeously Illustrated in Proto-Deco Style

Early–20th-century artist J.C. Leyendecker created this beautiful series of illustrations of the 23rd Psalm for the women’s magazine the Delineator, where they were published in December 1905

April 20 2015 1:01 PM

Lists of Types of Mania and Melancholy, Compiled for Early–19th-Century Doctors 

These lists of types of mania and melancholy appear in the 1817 handbook The Philadelphia Medical Dictionary (available on the Internet Archive, via the U.S. National Library of Medicine). 

April 17 2015 10:00 AM

A Midcentury Map of American Wildflowers

This 1955 map of "The Wild Flowers of Spring," a collaboration between a botanist and an abstract expressionist painter, locates early-blooming American wildflowers geographically. The flowers are numbered and lettered, with common names appearing around the perimeter of the map. 

April 15 2015 11:00 AM

A Book of Eyewitness Testimony Taken Right After the Lincoln Assassination

This unusual book of testimony from the Lincoln assassination is known as the Tanner Manuscript, and was assembled by Corporal James Tanner, a Civil War veteran and a clerk in the War Department. It holds the original shorthand notes Tanner took while hearing witnesses speak on the night of the assassination, as well as the longhand transcriptions he made later that morning. 

April 13 2015 12:44 PM

The Best Places Online to Browse Historical Documents From the Lincoln Assassination 

This week is the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the Internet is glutted with commemorations. Because nothing beats looking at primary sources to get a sense of how a historical event unfolded, here are my recommendations of document-heavy websites to browse. 

April 10 2015 11:13 AM

The Complex Series of Symbols Early Motorists Used for Wayfinding 

This tour book, published by the Automobile Club of America in 1910, offered detailed directions for motorists looking to navigate the New York and New England areas. The book used a copyrighted language of symbols to indicate directionality, terrain, and local laws of the road. Its sections are marked with black edging, so that a navigator could thumb through easily on the go. 

April 8 2015 11:54 AM

What Was On a 1920s Membership Application for the KKK?

This application to join the Ku Klux Klan, printed by the Ku Klux Press, was mailed to people whose friends had identified them as good prospects for membership. The application starts with fairly anodyne questions about occupation and residence, moving on to ask whether the applicant believed in white supremacy and "the principles of a PURE Americanism." 

April 6 2015 12:41 PM

The Original Draft of Grant’s Surrender Terms at Appomattox

This week marks the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  After the fall of Petersburg, Virginia, on April 2, 1865, and Richmond on April 3, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia tried to move west to merge with Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, but was blocked by Grant’s forces. Realizing the full strength in numbers of the Union troops his army faced, Lee began negotiating peace terms on April 7. (Here’s a link to the correspondence between Lee and Grant between April 7 and April 9, when they met in person to formalize Lee's surrender.)