The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Feb. 2 2016 11:16 AM

A Cheerier Vision of the Depression Years, in Hyperbright Postcards of Recreation Spots

Although we now associate the "look" of the Depression with the stark black-and-white photographs of Dorothea Lange or Walker Evans, for people who lived then, the superbright linen postcard was a staple of the visual landscape. Between 1931 and 1950, many imitators followed Chicago's Curt Teich & Company, the inventor of the printing process that made the linen postcard possible, into the marketplace. American souvenir shops and drugstores filled with racks of the intensely colored cardstock rectangles, often sold for a penny apiece. 

Feb. 1 2016 10:20 AM

How One Company Designed the Bookshelves that Made America’s Biggest Libraries Possible

Before the early 20th century, public libraries typically used wooden bookcases with fixed shelves to house their volumes. In the 1910s, new public literacy initiatives like Andrew Carnegie’s library-building projects, as well as institutional expansions at the Library of Congress and many universities, drove the need for a different kind of library shelf. The new wave of libraries—bigger and more comprehensive than their predecessors—needed bookshelves that could accommodate their rapidly growing collections of books. The New York Public Library, for example, installed 75 miles of new bookshelves in 1910 in preparation of its grand opening the next year.  And the shelves from earlier decades simply weren’t going to cut it.

Jan. 27 2016 1:29 PM

How an 1830s Children’s Magazine Taught Hard Truths About Slavery

From 1836 to 1839, the American Anti-Slavery Society published The Slave's Friend, a juvenile periodical edited by abolitionist Lewis Tappan. Each issue, specially sized to fit small hands, was 16 pages in length and featured a mix of stories, news items, and poems meant to gently but firmly tell white children about the evils of slavery. The New York Public Library's digital collection offers a small collection of scans of the magazine's 1837 issues.

Jan. 25 2016 12:12 PM

Drunkard, Merryboy, Younker. Some 17th-Century Names for Dogs.

Recently, historian John Reeks shared this amusing list of 17th-century hunting dog names on Twitter. The list, he said over email, came from a 1686 book by Nicholas Cox, The Gentleman's Recreation in Four Parts, which is available digitally via Early English Books Online.

Jan. 22 2016 11:55 AM

Listen to Studs Terkel Interview Gloria Steinem on the 10th Anniversary of Ms. Magazine

Ten years into the life of Ms. magazine, Gloria Steinem sat for this interview with Studs Terkel at the radio station WFMT in Chicago. The conversation, recorded in 1982, offers a look at the status of American second-wave feminism in the first few years of the Reagan administration. 

Jan. 20 2016 11:23 AM

Amelia Earhart’s Cautiously Optimistic 1933 Advice to an Aspiring Female Pilot 

In this 1933 letter, Amelia Earhart took time to advise 13-year-old aviation enthusiast June Pierson of Detroit on strategies for successes in the nascent industry. The letter, which has been in a private collection since it was sent, is now up for sale through Philadelphia's Raab Collection. 

Jan. 15 2016 1:14 PM

A Beautiful, Escapist Map of “Fairyland,” Published in Britain at the End of World War I

Bernard Sleigh's 1918 map of a place he called "Fairyland" mashes up dozens of stories to make a comprehensive geography of make-believe: Rapunzel's tower, cheek by jowl with Belle's palace from "Beauty and the Beast"; Humpty Dumpty on a roof, overlooking Red Riding Hood's house; Ulysses' ship, sailing past Goblin Land. 

Jan. 14 2016 5:25 PM

Gently Posed Photos of Everyday Life in Late-19th-Century Rural Japan

The J. Paul Getty Museum has digitized an album called Japanese Trades, which contains a set of these souvenir photos by Suzuki Shinichi, captioned in English by an unknown hand. The images date to between 1873 and 1883, and represent Japanese villagers going about their daily lives: selling rat poison, practicing archery, playing with their children, regarding the approach of a dentist with grim apprehension. 

Jan. 12 2016 10:43 AM

Witness the Controlled Chaos of Boston Traffic, As Filmed From a Streetcar in 1906

To make this short documentary of Boston streets, cinematographer Billy Bitzer stood on an electric streetcar operated by the Boston Elevated Railway and filmed what he saw. The vantage point offers a view of the way wagons, streetcars, and pedestrians jostled for space and dodged around each other in hectic early-twentieth-century traffic. The New England Historical Society, which recently shared the film on its blog, called this "one of the first films of the city ever made." 

Jan. 8 2016 10:50 AM

An Episode of Syphilis-Shaming Shows How Cruel Early-20th-Century Celebrity Gossip Could Be

This bizarre recording, an Edison Gold Moulded Record from c. 1904-1908 entitled “The Ravings of John McCullough,” is part of a sordid saga of celebrity gossip involving venereal disease, madness, and death. The Davidson Library at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which has digitized the record, identifies the speaker as comedian Harry Spencer, who was active around the turn of the twentieth century.