The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Oct. 12 2015 1:47 PM

A Swiss Artist’s Sensitive Early-19th-Century Portraits of Native American Life 

Prince Maximilian Alexander Philipp of Wied-Neuwied, a German nobleman and largely self-taught naturalist, used his family's capital to lead an expedition to Brazil in 1815. In the early 1830s, Maximilian decided to go to North America to carry out a similar trip, with the hope of observing Native American life and comparing it to the study he had made of indigenous people in Brazil. 

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Oct. 9 2015 10:23 AM

A Sailor’s Annotated Map of the Pacific Illustrates a Tour of Duty During WWII 

This map, annotated by Navy signalman Homer Bluford Clonts, tracks the geographical trajectory of the sailor's service on the USS Sheridan and the USS Eldorado, from 1943 to 1945. Clonts kept notes on the back of the map, registering when the ships he was on crossed the International Date Line, took important personnel like the Secretary of the Navy on board, or saw action. 

Oct. 7 2015 11:29 AM

Modernist Posters That Taught 1930s Kids How to Take Good Care of Books 

This group of five posters by graphic artist Arlington Gregg, commissioned during the latter half of the 1930s by the Illinois division of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project, instruct young library patrons in good book hygiene. On each, an impish figure demonstrates the negative behavior that book-lovers should strive to avoid.

Oct. 5 2015 12:21 PM

Beautiful Early-20th-Century Watercolors of Apple Varieties You Don’t See Much Anymore

The USDA's National Agricultural Library offers a digital collection of pomological watercolors—illustrations of fruit cultivars commonly grown between the years 1886 and 1942. In those years, the department's Division of Pomology employed 21 artists to document fruit varieties in images that were then lithographed and used in USDA informational publications.

Oct. 2 2015 1:47 PM

Nazi Photos Documenting Heaps of Everyday Objects Looted From Jewish Households

The images below come from a group of photos assembled after World War II by an art historian who was working for the Allies to restore looted Jewish art to its owners. The album, which was kept in the German Federal Archives in Koblenz, depicts furniture and crates being loaded into trucks, as well as these images of everyday household objects, assembled in massive groups. The photos were preserved with virtually no metadata, leaving historians to try to identify the locations and people depicted. 

Sept. 30 2015 1:32 PM

A Bizarrely Complicated Late-19th-Century Flat-Earth Map

This map, published by South Dakotan Orlando Ferguson in 1893, offers a unique vision of the earth as a concave field, with a round convex area in the middle. Surrounded by Bible passages arguing against the idea of a spherical earth, and embellished with a small illustration of men grasping desperately onto a spinning globe, the map begs its viewers to order Ferguson's book on "this Square and Stationary Earth," which "knocks the globe theory clean out." 

Sept. 28 2015 1:37 PM

Behold the Confusing Diversity of American Banknotes During the Antebellum Era

Four pages from the publication Thompson's Bank Note Reporter, issued in February, 1846, give a sense of the wide range of currencies available in the United States during the so-called "free banking era."(The full sixteen-page issue, which covers currency from 27 states, DC, and Canada, is available on the Internet Archive, having been digitized by the Washington University Libraries.) 

Sept. 25 2015 11:30 AM

Gorgeous Plates from an Early-20th-Century German Encyclopedia of Minerals 

The illustrations below come from German scientist Reinhard Brauns' 1903 book, Das Mineralreich (The Mineral Kingdom). Google Books offers the English translation of this two-volume work, which has 73 colored plates in total.

Sept. 23 2015 1:34 PM

The Heartbreaking Posters That Convinced Americans to Help Displaced Syrians During WWI 

The American Committee for Relief in the Near East, which put these posters in circulation in the last years of World War I, began in 1915 as the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, and wasformed as a humanitarian response to the Armenian genocide and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. As the war developed, the group began to offer food and shelter to war-displaced people in Syria, Persia (now Iran), and Greece. 

Sept. 21 2015 11:36 AM

Most Records of Underground Railroad Activity Were Destroyed. Not This One.

Due to the danger inherent in working with fugitives from slavery, many people who assisted runaways in their escapes either didn't keep records, or eventually burned their notes. For years, the records of William Still, a Philadelphian who thought it was important to preserve his documentation in hopes of reuniting families desperate for information about love ones, were unique in the amount of primary data they could offer about the workings of the Underground Railroad.