Member Blogs > Words In The WindScrapbooks: Intimate Records of Everyday Life, and More

  • Sat, 29 Jun 2013 02:46:20    Permalink

    When I was in school (long, long ago) we were sometimes assigned a scrapbook project. I can remember doing one on Venezuela that included an essay on Simon Bolivar, agriculture, industry, history, maps, etc. with any illustrations I could find. (Wretched old textbooks and National Geographics from the thrift shops often helped with such projects.) Another was on Abraham Lincoln (I can still feel the coarseness of the construction paper brown that comprised the pages of that album. It was old paper, and had a distinctive dusty odor, too.)
    Many young friends kept scrapbooks of movie stars, horses, cats, animals in general, the Dionne Quintuplets, Shirley Temple, flowers, and other subjects. Boys tended toward subjects such as aviation, radio, sports, heroes (Charles Lindberg, boxing champs) cars, comic strips, and other manly matters.  I think my first unprompted effort was on science, but then, I was always a weird child.   Adults collected recipes, albums of family travels with photos and souvenir ephemera, records of military service or occupations. Mothers kept scrapbooks on their childrens progress through childhood. College students kept a record of the years in school, with photos, programs for plays and dances and sporting events; clippings, grades, class schedules, lectures, and other souvenirs. I once acquired a pre-WWI album compiled by a student at a vocational college in our state who was studying pharmacy. After much research and a visit to the pharmacy school archivist, we determined that the album maker was in the first graduating class of the pharmacy school and became the first instructor under the dean. A lot more was discovered about his career, including the fact that I had no doubt dealt with him numerous times in a local pharmacy years earlier. Since the school was celebrating its centenary, the album found a home in its archives. From a scrapbook kept by a
    WW II Merchant Marine
    Todays scrapbook craze is nothing new just, in many ways, better with more archival materials, efforts to render pages artistically, stickers and borders and rubber stamps and other enhancements easily obtained. Curious about the history of scrapbooks and their place in recording our history, and especially about the regard in which they might be held by institutional archives, I have just read three books about the subject. Each focuses on a different aspect of the scrapbook, but all present a fairly consistent history of the scrapbook. Salient points include:  During the Renaissance, when paper and printing became more readily available, wealthy patrons of the arts kept albums of prints, portraits, and other refined material.  In the late 1700s, James Granger published a history of England that include blank pages for adding illustrations, letters, documents, or other related material. It became a fad in the 1800s to add such ephemera to other printed books, a process that is now described as extra-illustrating or Grangerizing.  Commonplace Books had more serious intent as a form of record-keeping in the 17th to 19th centuries. These were journals in which people could copy out quotations or documents that they wanted to preserve, philosophical or political ponderings, newspaper or magazine clippings, etc. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and other significant figures employed these regularly. (Remember that there was no Internet, no copy machines, no other way to preserve some of this material.) Commonplace books were much like journals or diaries, with no particular segregation of subject or chronological order. They were referred to often as a source of subjects for speeches, debate, history, etc. More from the Merchant
     Marine's scrapbook The Victorians perfected the art of the parlor album, books in which they could keep memorabilia, in which guests could add passages or poems or drawings or even musical scores or recipes. When newspaper printing became inexpensive and papers and magazines were more readily available to the public, an early form of scrapbook craze swept the country. Whole families sat down together to clip and paste into their individual scrapbooks. The paste was a messy proposition, being homemade and hard to use. No less a figure than Mark Twain offered a solution: scrapbooks with pre-pasted strips to moisten. This Mark Twains Scrapbook appeared in many formats and editions, and it has been said that it was his best-selling book. Of course, he also used scrapbooks to keep track of his many appearances in periodical print (stories, poems, essays, articles, illustrations, etc. were widely traded between several thousand publications). And of course there were announcements and reviews of his lectures and other activities. Clipping bureaus sprang up to provide material to celebrities, organizations, and others who wanted a record of any and all publications. Page from the album of a
    high-school girl active in music.Some scrapbooks contain items such as hair clippings, menus, souvenir programs or things like spoons or cocktail picks, napkins, charms and other jewelry, patches, matchbook covers, tokens, pressed flowers and corsages, handkerchiefs, fabric swatches, ribbons, labels, and just about anything else moderately flat enough to keep between pages. Needless to say the materials represented also range widely. Archiving the albums can be a real headache, according to some of the institutional specialists I have discussed this with. Sometimes the scrapbooks are taken apart, the pages inventoried and indexed, and stored separately. Sometimes the book is kept intact in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment (often in an archival box) and the pages indexed in the records. Not all scrapbooks are worthy of archiving, but some constitute the best record kept of social and political movements, etc. Ill discuss all that in another blog segment, along with the afore-mentioned three books on the subject.

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