The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

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.

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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.

Jan. 9 2015 11:56 AM

Pretty Tree Maps Showing the State of American Forests in 1884 

These tree maps, commissioned by the United States Census and published in 1884, were compiled at the direction of dendrologist and horticulturist Charles Sprague Sargent. The complete set of sixteen maps, digitized by the David Rumsey Map Collection, represents American forests by genus of tree, density, and position. The USDA estimates that while the total area of forested land in the United States has diminished by 30 percent since the date of European settlement in 1630, “75 percent of net conversion to other uses occurred in the nineteenth century.” Sargent’s project was meant to capture the contours of the forest as it stood in the Victorian era. 

Jan. 7 2015 10:43 AM

The Beautiful Geometry of 18th-Century Forts, Built by Britain in the American Colonies

The Twitter feed @bldgblog recently shared some of these images of plans for eighteenth-century British forts in the Americas, from the online exhibition “The Geometry of War.” The exhibition, curated by Brian Leigh Dunnigan, associate director and curator of maps at the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library, contains maps from the library’s collection.


Jan. 6 2015 11:30 PM

So, What Was In That Boston Time Capsule? 

Tonight, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, conservators opened a box that was buried beneath the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in 1795. Samuel Adams, then governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, installed the box with the help of Paul Revere, then the Grand Master of the Freemasons of Massachusetts. The deposit contained two layers of historical material: one from 1795, and another from 1855, when the little repository was opened and cataloged, then re-assembled and augmented with new material from that time.