The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Feb. 2 2015 1:14 PM

The Slips of Paper That Called 19th-Century Militias to Muster 

These muster notices were sent to eligible citizens in New England towns, calling them to come parade with their militia on an appointed day. Delivered on partial sheets of paper, and printed using the nineteenth-century equivalent of clip art (standard images of soldiers and eagles), the notices warned enrolled men of the need to bring the arms and uniforms required by the state.

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Jan. 30 2015 10:07 AM

The Papers Late-19th-Century Chinese Immigrants Had to Carry To Prove Their Legal Status

As of the 1892 passage of the Geary Act, which extended the decade-old Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants living in the United States were required to carry identification papers at all times. Here are four examples of such papers, carried by men who worked as laborers and farmers in California; they are part of a larger Flickr group of documents issued between 1894 and 1897, and held by the California Historical Society.

Jan. 28 2015 11:55 AM

Jefferson’s Outline of the Differences Between Northerners and Southerners 

In a 1785 letter to the Marquis de Chastellux, a French writer and historian who fought on the colonists’ side during the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson outlined the dominant personal qualities he saw emerging in the population of the new country’s northern and southern states. Chastellux was working ona book about his travels through the new States; he had sent Jefferson the part of this work-in-progress pertaining to Virginia, for his review.

Jan. 27 2015 9:22 AM

A Victorian Argument That Snow Is Holy, Illustrated by a Beautiful Catalog of Flakes 

These plates, cataloging the geometrical forms of snowflakes, are from an 1863 book called Snow-flakes: A Chapter from the Book of Nature, published by the American Tract Society in Boston. I first saw the images on the Public Domain Review.

Jan. 23 2015 10:01 AM

The Info-Dense Maps Civilians Used to Follow WWII From the Home Front

These bright Dated Events War Maps, issued in 1942, 1944, and 1945, are by Toronto artist Stanley TurnerOther Turner war maps digitized by the David Rumsey Map Collection are also dated between 1942 and 1945. Each offers readers a packed visual guide to the recent happenings of the global war.

Jan. 22 2015 9:54 AM

The Documents That Trapped Poor Southern Farmers in a Dangerous Form of Debt

A commonplace of Southern rural life in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, these long forgotten promissory documents, nicknamed “guano notes,” are among the most unique forms of debt in American history. 

Jan. 21 2015 2:32 PM

Beguiling 19th-Century Space Art, Made by a Self-Taught Astronomical Observer

Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, a French-American artist and amateur astronomer, published these drawings of celestial subjects as chromolithographs in 1881. Trouvelot was a scientist without formal training, whose primary occupation was artist, nature illustrator, and printmaker.

Jan. 18 2015 11:45 PM

Flyers for the Campaigns Martin Luther King Was Working on When He Was Assassinated

These flyers call people to join Martin Luther King’s last campaigns, against poverty and the Vietnam War. Two of them have been modified to act as commemorations of the leader’s assassination. These objects of movement ephemera are part of Tulane University’s Amistad Research Center’s “Print Culture of the Civil Rights Movement, 1950-1980” digital collection.

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.

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.