The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

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.

Jan. 6 2016 3:12 PM

18th-Century Souvenirs From Epic Festivals Held on the Frozen River Thames 

Between 1309 and 1814, with Europe in the grip of the cool period sometimes known as the Little Ice Age, the river Thames froze over 23 times. In five of these instances, the river's ice was thick enough to support structures, and citizens of London took advantage of the circumstances to throw days-long "frost fairs." As part of the festivities, printers set up shop on the ice, and sold engraved and letterpressed sheets of paper like those below. Harvard's Houghton Library recently acquired six such keepsakes. 

Jan. 4 2016 2:51 PM

Stunning Modernist Covers of 1930s Fortune Magazine Will Give You a Bad Case of Print Nostalgia

Fortune, which launched in 1929 as the brainchild of Henry Luce, had a lux appearance and premium price. (In 1935, the magazine's prominently-noted subscription rate of ten dollars a year would have translated to around $172 in 2014 dollars.) As part of the project's mandate to emphasize visual presentation, the magazine commissioned artists to create covers that would lend it what we might now call a strong brand identity. 

Dec. 30 2015 8:40 AM

1920s Instructional Diagrams Teach Ice Skating With Style 

In 1921, Bror Meyer, a Swedish figure skater who won a bronze medal in the World Championships in 1906, published a manual called Skating With Bror Meyer. Meyer illustrated his book with numbered diagrams, hoping that readers would follow the sequence of actions skaters performed while executing particular maneuvers. 

Dec. 28 2015 1:05 PM

The X-Ray Images That Showed Midcentury Scientists How Radiation Affects an Ecosystem

In June 1947, biologists from the University of Washington collected a wrasse from the waters around Bikini Atoll, squished it against a photographic plate, and took an x-ray. The resulting image shocked them. Almost an entire year had passed since the United States had detonated “Able” and “Baker,” two fission bombs, at the atoll. The scientists involved in the Bikini Scientific Resurvey were certain that the expansive Pacific Ocean would have quickly diluted and dispersed any radioactive products from the 1946 detonations.

Dec. 21 2015 2:49 PM

Five More Digital History Projects We Loved in 2015

On Friday, I shared five digital history projects that dazzled me this past year. Here are five more. (The whole list is in no particular order. They're all amazing.) Happy browsing! 

Dec. 18 2015 2:02 PM

Five Digital History Projects That Dazzled Us in 2015

Here are five digital history sites that absorbed my attention in 2015. I'll be sharing five more on Monday, for your holiday bookmarking and browsing needs.