smithsonian snapshot

Vampire Squid Illustration, 1889

This Smithsonian Snapshot celebrates the Halloween season with this 1889 scientific illustration of a vampire squid from Smithsonian Libraries.

Its jet-black skin, the caped appearance of the webbing between its arms and eyes that appear red under some light conditions are what gave the vampire squid its name.

In 1889, Prince Albert I of Monaco began writing the series Résultats des campagnes scientifiques accomplies sur son yacht. The series, including the volume with this vampire squid illustration, is held for research at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

In the early 1900s, the prince’s strong interest in protecting the world’s oceans and discovering new species led him to establish the Fondation Albert Ier. The foundation promoted his research in the field of oceanography and marine biology.

The vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis) is the single living representative of the cephalopod group known as the Vampyromorpha. It is a small, deep-sea species found at depths of at least 2,000 to 3,000 feet in the temperate and tropical oceans of the world.

It reaches a maximum total length of around 30 centimeters with a 15-centimeter gelatinous body similar to a jelly fish. It shares similarities with both squid and octopuses. In 1903, it was classified as an octopus by German teuthologist Carl Chun, but later reassigned to a new order.

To learn more about the vampire squid in the wild, visit the Encyclopedia of Life.

This object is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is currently not on display but is digitized in the Biodiversity Heritage Library. To learn more about this item, visit the Smithsonian Institution Libraries website.

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Smithsonian Snapshot

Odori Hitori Geiko (Dance Instruction Manual)

Similar to blogging and e-publication in the 21st century, wood-block illustrated books (ehon) in Edo-period Japan (1615–1868) evolved quickly into a popular mode of both artistic production and commercial trade.

In a striking and sweeping change from the past, when books were primarily reserved for the elite, the beautiful, intriguing and humorous subjects in ehon brought reading to the masses. It was an age of epic book consumption; artists and writers created many designs for these books, and the compact, paper-bound volumes circulated widely.

The creators of these books developed designs that still inspire and inform today’s popular manga artists.

This image is from Odori Hitori Geiko (Dance Instruction Manual) by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and is in the exhibition, “Hand-Held: Gerhard Pulverer’s Japanese Illustrated Books,” on view April 6–Aug. 11 at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The exhibition highlights The Gerhard Pulverer Collection, which was acquired in its entirety by the Freer in 2007 and includes many of the rarest and most pristine illustrated books from the Edo period.

This object is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. To learn more about ehon, the exhibition and the Pulverer Collection, visit the Freer and Sackler galleries’ website.

Images, gif, and article from newsdesk.si.edu

Airline Poster, c. 1969

This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot marks the start of summer with this 1969 airline poster.

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s collection of more than 1,300 posters focuses on advertising for aviation-related products and activities. In the mid 1900s, airline advertisements like this one from Continental Airlines promoted exotic travel destinations.

This multicolor screen print shows a Hawaiian surfer wearing orange-and-red swim trunks and pink lei. In the background a volcano hidden among a lush, green jungle explodes with a swirl of warm colors. The black lines and bright solid colors are typical of psychedelic posters from the 1960s.

The poster collection is a unique representation of the cultural, commercial and military history of aviation. It represents an intense interest in flight, both public and private, during a significant period of its technological and social development.

To learn more about aviation advertising, visit the National Air and Space Museum’s “Fly Now” online exhibition website. To view more summer-related items at the Smithsonian, visit our summer Pinterest board.

This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is not currently on display. To learn more about this item, visit the National Air and Space Museum website.

Declaration of Independence Desk, 1776

This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot celebrates the July 4, 1776, U. S. independence from Great Britain.

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence on this portable desk. It features a hinged writing board and a locking drawer for papers, pens and inkwell. 

On July 4, 1776, Congress amended and adopted the declaration. Its words not only established the guiding principles for the new nation, they have served to inspire future generations in America and around the world.

This desk continued to be Jefferson’s companion throughout his life as a revolutionary patriot, American diplomat and president of the United States. While the drafts of the Declaration of Independence were among the first documents Jefferson wrote on this desk, the note he attached under the writing board in 1825 was among the last: “Politics as well as Religion has its superstitions. These, gaining strength with time, may, one day, give imaginary value to this relic, for its great association with the birth of the Great Charter of our Independence.”

On Nov. 14, 1825, Jefferson wrote to his recently married granddaughter Ellen Randolph Coolidge to inform her that he was sending his “writing box” as a present to her husband Joseph Coolidge. The desk remained in the Coolidge family until April 1880, when the family donated it to the U.S. government. It was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1921.

To learn more about American history, visit the National Museum of American History’s “American Stories” exhibition website.

This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is currently on display in the National Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery in the National Museum of American History. To learn more about this item, visit the National Museum of American History website.

Thanksgiving Menu, 1905

Smithsonian Snapshot celebrates the Thanksgiving season with this 1905 Thanksgiving menu by George Elbert Burr from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In the early 20th century, Burr worked as an illustrator for several magazines including Harper’s,Cosmopolitan and Frank Leslie's Weekly Newspaper, the same newspaper in which Winslow Homer provided illustrations.

In 1905, Burr created this menu for a Thanksgiving dinner that included mashed potatoes, English plum pudding, Charlotte Russe dessert and of course, the turkey, illustrated here in a simple pen, ink and watercolor drawing.

To learn more about the history of the Thanksgiving holiday and how studying food can help teach visitors about American history, visit the National Museum of American History website.

This object is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is currently not on display. To learn more about this item, visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum website.

Helen Keller’s Watch, Late 1800s

This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot marks the June 27, 1880, birthday of Helen Keller, a prominent 20th-century advocate for women’s suffrage and workers’ rights.

As a child, Keller contracted an illness that left her deaf and blind. After years of frustrated isolation, she was introduced to Anne Sullivan, who taught Keller to communicate by spelling words into her hand. She eventually learned to read, write and speak, and graduated from Radcliffe College in 1904 as the first person who was deaf and blind to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

In 1892, Keller met John Hitz, superintendent of the Volta Bureau at Alexander Graham Bell’s institution for the deaf. Hitz presented this Swiss-made “touch watch” to Keller as a gift. It is specially designed with pins around the case edge to mark the hours.

Keller’s inspiring story made her an international celebrity, and she became a prominent spokesperson for disability rights, an important cause that she symbolizes to this day. The Smithsonian collected this watch in 1975.

To learn more about historic timepieces from the collection, visit the National Museum of American History’s “On Time” online exhibition website. To learn more about women’s suffrage, visit the museum’s “Treasures of American History” website.

This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is not currently on display. For more information about this watch, visit the National Museum of American History website.

More from the Smithsonian Snapshot series

V-Mail Stationery, 1942

This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot marks the June 15, 1942, launch of V-Mail, the overseas communication service used between military personnel, family and friends.

During World War II, Army Post Offices, Fleet Post Offices and U.S. post offices were flooded with mail sent by service members and family. V-Mail was a solution to the volume of mail competing with essential wartime supplies for cargo space.

The U.S. adapted Great Britain’s Airgraph service and integrated microfilm technology into its wartime system. V-Mail letters were copied onto microfilm, which was shipped overseas and reproduced at one-quarter of the original size at a processing station where it was then delivered to the addressee.

V-Mail required standardized 8 ½-by-11-inch stationery like that pictured here from the Wessel Co. in Chicago. The distinguishing marks and uniform size of the stationery helped workers gather the folded letter sheets to be photographed onto 16 mm microfilm. All sheets were set to standard dimensions, weight, grain and layout so they fit in the Kodak microfilming machines.

Correspondents could obtain two sheets per day from their local post office for free. Others opted to purchase the materials that were available in neighborhood stores.

The National Postal Museum’s collection of V-Mail stationery demonstrates the intersection of governmental and commercial efforts to facilitate mail for the military. Frequent letter writing was encouraged for its morale-boosting effects on America’s soldiers.

To learn more about American military history, visit the National Museum of American History’s “Price of Freedom” exhibition website. To learn more about V-Mail, visit the National Postal Museum’s, “Victory Mail” online exhibition website.

This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is not currently on display. To learn more about this item, visit the National Museum Postal Museum website.

Draisine, ca. 1818

This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot celebrates National Bike Month with the forerunner of the modern bicycle: this ca. 1818 draisine.

In 1817, Karl Drais, a young inventor in Baden, Germany, designed and built a two-wheeled, wooden vehicle that was straddled and propelled by walking swiftly. Drais called it the laufmaschine or “running machine.”

A forester for the Grand Duke of Baden, Drais used his laufmaschine to inspect the Duke’s forest. The laufmaschine soon became a novelty among Europeans, who named it the “draisine.”

By 1818, the draisine craze reached the United States. Charles Wilson Peale, a well-known portrait artist, helped to popularize the draisine by displaying one in his museum in Philadelphia. Many American examples were made, and rentals and riding rinks became available in Eastern cities.

By 1820, the high cost of the vehicle, combined with its lack of practical value, limited its appeal and made it little more than an expensive toy. The two-wheeled vehicle would not become sustained until pedals were added in the late 1800s.

Donated to the Smithsonian in 1964, this draisine is the oldest cycle in its collection of 61 cycles. They reflect social trends and technological developments that have shaped the growth and popularity of riding since 1818.

To view more bicycles, motorcycles, automobiles and other vehicles at the Smithsonian, visit the National Museum of American History’s “America on the Move” exhibition.

This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is not on display. To learn more about this item, visit the National Museum of American History’s website.

On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, 1859

This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot marks the May 11, 1820, anniversary of the launch of HMSBeagle, the ship that took Charles Darwin on his scientific voyage.

In 1820, Beagle was launched from the Woolwich Dockyard on the River Thames in London. It was moored afloat for years until it was finally adapted as an exploration bark and took part in three expeditions.

On Dec. 27, 1831, Beagle began its second survey voyage. Darwin, the young naturalist hired to provide advice on geology, was on board. His work would eventually make Beagle one of the most famous ships in history.

During this five-year scientific voyage to South America and the Galápagos Islands, Darwin collected animal fossils, inspected plant specimens and studied the geology of islands and coral reefs. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection grew out of his work aboard the Beagle.

In 1859, he published his theory in On the Origin of Species, a revolutionary book that changed the course of modern science. It soon found supporters at the Smithsonian. Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, held the book in high regard. Darwin’s theory continues to guide research of experts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to this day.

This important first edition is registered with the Darwin Census, no. 10143, and was acquired by the Smithsonian Libraries in 1976.

To learn more about the 1.9 million living species known to science, visit the Encyclopedia of Life’swebsite.

This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collections. It is not currently on display. To learn more about this item, visit the Smithsonian Institution Libraries website.

Vintage Zoo Guidebook, 1895

What better way to enjoy a warm spring day than a trip to the local zoo? This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot highlights the Smithsonian Institution Libraries collection of vintage zoo guidebooks and pamphlets from around the world.

The collection from the National Zoological Park branch of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries has 1,000 brochures, guidebooks, maps, drawings and photographs from 30 states and 40 countries.

In addition to serving as educational facilities, zoos have also doubled as recreation areas and amusement parks as illustrated on the front cover of this 1895 guidebook from the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in England. Animal rides, sporting events and even ballroom dancing were held on zoo grounds in an era when visiting a zoo often meant a daylong trip outside of the city limits.

Many of the items in this collection were collected by former directors and staff from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. The promotional nature of the publications also demonstrates the history of graphic design, illustration and advertising used by public and private institutions throughout the years.

This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is not on display. For more information about these vintage zoo publications, visit the Smithsonian Institution Libraries “Zoos: A Historical Perspective,” online exhibition website.

To learn more about how the Smithsonian demonstrates leadership in animal care, science, education and sustainability, visit the National Zoo’s website.

Sikorsky XR-4 Helicopter, 1942

This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot celebrates the May 25, 1889, birthday of Igor Sikorsky, inventor of the world’s first mass-produced helicopter.

In December 1940, the U.S. Army Air Force awarded a $50,000 contract to Sikorsky to develop the XR-4, the first helicopter to be mass produced and the first helicopter accepted by the U.S. military.

The XR-4 made its first flight Jan. 14, 1942, with Sikorsky’s test pilot, Les Morris, at the controls. In May of that year, Morris flew the XR-4 from the Sikorsky production plant in Connecticut to the Army Air Force test center at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. This photo shows Sikorsky, left, with Orville Wright, right, the pioneer of flight, at Wright Field after the completed delivery May 18, 1942.

The sole XR-4 prototype demonstrated the practicality of the helicopter in military operations and led to a program to build helicopters for the war effort. Though the XR-4 series was intended only for training, delays in production design led both the Army Air Force and the Coast Guard to use them for rescue and other missions, including the first combat operations flown by a helicopter.

The Smithsonian acquired the XR-4 four years after World War II along with other significant aircraft developed by the Army Air Force.

To learn more about World War II aviation, visit the National Air and Space Museum’s onlineexhibition.

The photo and helicopter are two of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. The XR-4 helicopter is on display at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. To learn more about these items, visit the National Air and Space Museum’s website.

Columbia Light Roadster High-Wheel Bicycle, 1886

What comes to mind when thinking about spring—taking the bike out for a long ride? March 20 marks the first day of spring this year. This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot celebrates the spring season with an original 1886 Columbia Light Roadster high-wheel bicycle.

Sold originally for approximately $135, this bicycle was made by the Pope Manufacturing Co., the first company to manufacture bicycles in the U.S. This bicycle was available with seven sizes of front wheel, from 47 to 59 inches, and two sizes of rear wheel, 16 or 18 inches. This example is fitted with a 60-spoke, 53-inch front wheel, and a 20-spoke, 18-inch rear wheel.

This group photo shows cyclists in one of America’s first organized biking tours. The first rider is Charles E. Pratt, first president of the League of American Wheelmen, a national membership organization for cyclists. The riders are lined up outside Readville, Mass., in 1879.

Established in 1889, the Smithsonian’s cycle collection has 60 velocipedes, high-wheel bicycles and safety bicycles. These items reflect the technological developments and popularity of biking beginning in the late 19th century.

These items are two of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. They are not currently on display. For more info about them, visit the museum’s website.

To view bicycle advertisements and catalogs from the late 1800s, visit the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ website.