The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

May 8 2015 12:30 PM

An Early-19th-Century Scientist’s Close-Up Portraits of Pollen 

German chemist and botanist Carl Julius Fritzsche observed and depicted these grains of pollen from flowering plants using a microscope set at around 500x magnification. Fritzsche cataloged pollen grains from different angles, trying to understand their structure, and published his findings in an 1837 book, Ueber den Pollen (About Pollen). 


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May 6 2015 12:15 PM

How Proponents of Forced Sterilization Convinced Everyday Californians to Support Their Cause

The Human Betterment Foundation, which operated in California between 1929 and 1942, researched the effects of eugenic sterilization and created and distributed literature arguing for the practice's benefits. This 1938 pamphlet makes the case for state-imposed sterilization to readers who might have moral qualms, arguing that the practice was widespread, highly cost-effective, and approved by the families of the people who had been sterilized.

May 4 2015 10:51 AM

Audubon’s Animals of 19th-Century North America, Newly Available for Hi-Res Download

The University of Michigan's Special Collections Library has digitized its copy of naturalist John James Audubon's The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, originally published between 1845 and 1848. This collection of scans of public-domain material is hi-res, and the library is making the files available for free download and use, with attribution. (Plates from Audubon's more famous Birds of America are also available through the library's website.) 

May 1 2015 10:17 AM

Bright 1970 Cuban Propaganda Posters Urging Solidarity With Vietnam

These posters by Cuban artist Felix René Mederos Pazos were the product of a trip Mederos took to Vietnam in 1969, on assignment from the Cuban government's Department of Revolutionary Orientation.

April 29 2015 12:04 PM

Rules of Business Ethics for Early-19th-Century Christian Merchants

The American Tract Society published these undated "Rules for Christian Mechanics and Merchants" sometime before 1841, when the tract was listed for sale in the Society's Annual Report. The Rules exhort businessmen and tradesmen (then commonly called "mechanics") to think of honesty and Christian ethics before profit, and to use their positions as public figures and employers to proselytize to those they might encounter in daily life: "shopmatesclerksapprentices, and comers-in." 

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. 

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.