The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Nov. 25 2015 12:20 PM

An Adorable Apple Pie ABC for Hungry 19th-Century Children

Kate Greenaway, a British artist who specialized in extremely cute babies and young people, was a popular illustrator of children's books and magazine articles in the late nineteenth century. "By 1885," writes Richard Cavendish, "her books were being ruthlessly imitated and pirated, while Greenaway dolls, children's fashions, pottery and wallpapers were selling in quantity in Britain and abroad." This book, printed in 1886, was published at the height of her fame. 

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Nov. 23 2015 12:49 PM

A D.C. Watercolorist’s Beautiful Record of the Changing City in the ‘60s and ‘70s 

Lily Spandorf, an Austrian artist who emigrated to the United States in 1959, lived in Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle and worked as a contributing artist for the Washington Star newspaper from 1960 to 1981. Some of Spandorf's art, including the images below, is on view at the George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum, in a new exhibition that opened on Saturday.

Spandorf worked at a time when many older buildings and neighborhoods in American cities were being radically altered or destroyed, thanks to policies of urban renewal. She often sketched places in D.C. that were at risk of demolition and occasionally caught the bulldozers in the act, making destruction look oddly beautiful through her deployment of watercolor or gouache. 

Preservation-minded cityscapes aside, much of the freelance artist's bread and butter came from her renderings of less controversial subjects: portraits of dignitaries or the paintings of White House Christmas decorations that she sketched and sold every year. (A Spandorf drawing of the National Christmas Tree was made into a postage stamp in 1963.)

Lily Spandorf, "Sheraton Hotel" (923 16th Street NW; now the St. Regis Washington, D.C.)

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

Lily Spandorf, "Collector's Gallery" (Wisconsin Avenue and Q; still extant).

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

Lily Spandorf, "People's Drug, 7 Dupont Circle, NW," ca. 1970. Location appears to have been demolished.(Update, November 23: The right-hand side of this pair of buildings remains; it's now a CVS.)

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

Lily Spandorf, "Municipal Fish Market." The Market's building, on Maine Avenue between 11th and 12th streets, was razed in the 1960s, and the vendors were relocated west.This image is undated, but it seems to depict an outdoor waterfront scene, post-demolition.

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

Lily Spandorf, "Western Market," formerly at 21st and K streets, NW.

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

Lily Spandorf, "The City Smiles," published on the cover of Potomac magazine, Washington Post, April 2, 1961.

Historical Society of Washington, D.C.. Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum

Nov. 20 2015 12:02 PM

The CIA’s WWII Guide to Creating Organizational Dysfunction Perfectly Describes Your Toxic Workplace

The Office of Strategic Services (the CIA's WWII-era precursor) created this document in 1944, for use by operatives in Europe who were trying to recruit civilians living in occupied countries to commit sabotage. The document is available in full via the CIA's website.

Nov. 18 2015 11:39 AM

Photos of Belgium’s Ravaged Landscapes, in the Immediate Aftermath of World War I

To put together a new book of images of World War I, The First World War: Unseen Glass Plate Photographs of the Western Front,  Carl De Keyzer restored original plates made by photographers whose work, in their own time, was printed without fanfare and viewed at a much smaller size. De Keyzer's book offers photographs of soldiers, civilians, and landscapes in a large format that represents the war with startling clarity. 

Nov. 16 2015 10:02 AM

A Midcentury Composer’s Luminous Rainbow Wheels Representing Music Through Color

Russian composer Ivan Wyschnegradsky was a 20th-century avant-garde pianist devoted to “creating a work capable of awakening in every man the slumbering forces of cosmic consciousness,” according to his journal. To achieve this mystical ideal, he set out to create sounds that no one had ever heard before. His music was microtonal, a style that transcends the limitations of the 12-scale tuning system in traditional Western music.

Nov. 13 2015 10:17 AM

How a Palestine Tourism Poster, Designed by a Jewish Artist in the 1930s, Took On New Meaning

In 1936, an Austrian Jew named Franz Krausz created this stylized view of Jerusalem's Old City. Krausz, who fled Europe during Hitler’s rise, designed a variety of posters for Zionist groups encouraging Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. This one is particularly arresting:​ the ancient, low-slung city rendered in a warm-hued Mediterranean palette​, crowned by the Dome of the Rock​.

Nov. 12 2015 9:28 AM

Maps Tracking Levels of Poverty in Victorian London, Block by Block

British businessman, philanthropist, and social reformer Charles Booth spent years gathering the data to produce these color-coded maps of London poverty, which he published as part of a huge project titled The Labor and Life of the People of London. (Labor and Life eventually comprised 17 volumes.) The library of the London School of Economics, which has produced an interactive mobile app with the Booth maps, has recently made this source material available in high resolution files, via Flickr.

Nov. 9 2015 10:46 AM

An Eloquent Baptist Protest Against Internment Camps During WWII 

This pamphlet, published by the American Baptist Home Mission Society in 1944 or 1945, pleads for "fair play" for Japanese-Americans. The interior of the pictorial booklet argues the point on two fronts, excerpting arguments from national newspapers ("Leading Papers Speak Up For It"), then offering a spread of photographs of Japanese-Americans working and playing alongside white Americans in various settings ("The People Practice It"). 

Nov. 6 2015 2:35 PM

A Depression-Era Zoo Housed Wolves and Three Species of Bears Together. It Didn’t End Well

In October, 1932, in Milwaukee's Washington Park Zoo, two young polar bears drowned a black bear in a pool, over the course of a half an hour. Hundreds of visitors gathered, as the group of animals that had been kept in a single enclosure—three grizzly bears, three polar bears, five black bears, and three wolves, in total—assembled to look on.

Nov. 4 2015 12:50 PM

These 18th- and 19th-Century “Dissected Maps” Were the First Jigsaw Puzzles

The Library of Congress has recently digitized a group of puzzle maps dating from the late 18th to the early 20th century. These "dissected maps" were the first generation of jigsaw puzzles; following the latest educational theories of the time, they were sold as tools to make learning fun.