The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

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.)

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April 3 2015 12:55 PM

Punched Timecards of the Insanely Workaholic Thomas A. Edison

The famously productive Thomas A. Edison was 65 in the late summer and fall of 1912, when he punched these timecards in his West Orange, New Jersey laboratory. The cards are viewable in the online collections of The Henry Ford. 


April 1 2015 10:16 AM

A Chart of New Guinea in 1901, When the Island Was Halfway Between Unmapped and Mapped

This map of New Guinea, from a 1901 atlas, shows the extent to which, even in the first years of the 20th century, the interior of the island remained completely unknown to foreign surveyors. 

March 30 2015 11:52 AM

Handprints of Hitler, Mussolini, and FDR, Analyzed by a Palm Reader in 1938

In a 1938 book, How to Know People by Their Hands, palmist Josef Ranald included these three handprints of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, analyzing each. His analyses offer an unexpected window into popular perspectives on these leaders' personalities, before the outbreak of World War II. 

March 27 2015 8:27 AM

Photos of Bohemian Partiers in New York’s Greenwich Village, 1910-1920

In a series of photographs taken between 1910 and 1920, Jessie Tarbox Beals documented the parties and get-togethers of bohemian Greenwich Village. Beals also took posed portraits of denizens of the Village, some of which she sold as postcards to curiosity-seekers interested in seeing how the famously "liberated" men and women of the Village conducted their lives. These group shots of gatherings are the most casual of her Village images. 

March 25 2015 12:36 PM

How to Captivate an Audience Using Gestures, From a 19th-Century Oratorical Primer

These Postures and Attitudes were meant for nineteenth-century students to use when practicing speech-giving. Presented as illustrations in Charles W. Sanders' Sanders' School Speaker: A Comprehensive Course of Instruction in the Principles of Oratory; With Numerous Exercises for Practice in Declamation, the figures advised students how to use their bodies to heighten the effect of their delivery. 

March 23 2015 11:33 AM

A 1935 Historical Map of Shanghai, Designed by an Enthusiastic Resident Expat

Carl Crow, an American journalist and adman who lived in Shanghai for twenty-five years, designed this historical map of the city in 1935. Crow was a ceaseless promoter of China in general and Shanghai in particular, and the map illustrates his vision of a "cosmopolitan" city where American, French, British, and Chinese cultures mixed. 

March 20 2015 12:04 PM

Bloody Accounts of Steamboat Disasters, Sold to Tourists on the 19th-Century Mississippi 

Publisher James T. Lloyd's 1856 book Lloyd's Steamboat Directory, and Disasters on the Western Waters, is illustrated by 32 woodcuts of explosions, fires, and foundering ships, chronicling a decades-long history of steamboat mayhem. (The whole book is digitally available via the Library of Congress, on the Internet Archive.) 

March 19 2015 1:38 PM

Sumptuous 1920s Art Nouveau Prints of Insects From Around the World

E.A. Séguy, a French artist, created these prints of insects in the 1920s and sold them in pattern books to others who might use them for inspiration in coming up with designs for textiles or wallpaper. Like other work in the Art Nouveau tradition, Seguy's images look to nature for inspiration, adopting a crowded, colorful aesthetic. Given their strongly geometrical aspect, his insects might also inspire designers working in the newer Art Deco style. 

March 16 2015 12:04 PM

A Telephone Map of the United States Shows Where You Could Call Using Ma Bell in 1910

There were 5.8 million telephones in the Bell/AT&T network in 1910, when this map was published. It shows the uneven development of early telephone service in the United States, and gives us a sense of which places could speak to each other over Bell’s long-distance lines in the first decade of the twentieth century.