HISTORY OF SCRAPBOOKING
by Maureen Taylor
Did you know that you have something in common with Thomas Jefferson,
Mark Twain and President Rutherford B. Hayes? That's right. Scrapbooks.
Perhaps you have your grandmother's or grandfather's albums. They
may not resemble the books you create today in look and feel, but
you might be surprised at the similarities. Before copy machines,
earlier generations cut articles from newspapers and saved labels,
greeting cards and illustrations for their books. They called them
common-place books, friendship albums and scrapbooks.
How old is the scrapbooking tradition? Although no one is really
sure, scrapbooks probably have their origin in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. The word "scrapbook" first appeared
in the late eighteenth century. It is derived from the brightly
colored paper called scrap that filled the albums of that time.
Scrap such as product labels and greeting cards could be collected
or even purchased from specialty shops carrying albums and scrap
for the scrapbook mania of the late nineteenth century. If you want
to see actual copies of these early scrapbooks, many library archives
have collections of them. Compare your scrapbooks to their earlier
counterparts to learn more about your grandmother's album, or to
discover new ways to approach your own albums.
Educated men and women pasted quotes and phrases in things they
called common-place books. Thomas Jefferson gathered newspaper articles
of his presidency for his books in his leather-bound volumes of
plain paper. Most of these books included clippings, drawings and
even diary entries. By the first half of the nineteenth century,
these albums also had beautiful embossed covers, engraved clasps,
and locks. Hattie Harlow of Boston, a seamstress, organized her
notes, clippings and illustrations by topic in separate handmade
volumes with wallpaper and cardboard covers. One of her common-place
books even includes knitting samples with directions.
scrapbook keepers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries often
pasted their clippings and memorabilia directly over the text of
old books or catalogs, as shown in the albums above from the Colorado
Building on the popularity of common-place books, William Granger
introduced in 1769 a printed book with extra blank pages so that
the owner could personalize it with autographs, letters, or illustrations
relating to the subject of the publication. Early scrapbookers also
began adding pages to existing books to mimic the style. There were
even manuals that described how to "extra illustrate"
Laura L. Sherwin of Fairhaven, Vermont, wrote, "This lock of
hair I will place in your little book for the remembrance of your
friend," in Hellen Marion Adams' friendship album. In each
place that her family lived, Hellen collected hair weavings and
messages in a type of autograph album that originated in Germany
in the seventeenth century. Young women in the Victorian period
often created memory books or visitors albums filled with signatures,
scrap, cards, hair, handwriting, poetry and even photographs of
their family and friends.
Just as your scrapbooks have a theme, men, women and children of
earlier generations also created albums for a variety of purposes.
The peak decade for scrapbooks in the nineteenth century was from
1880, when a popular manual became available, to about 1890. Producers
of scrap created a demand for their product by offering sheets of
scraps in new styles directed at women and children. Magazines featured
numerous articles on the value of scrapbooks as a family activity
and educational tool. Housewives kept the labels and trade cards
from new consumer products and included them in their albums, while
male and female college students documented their years at school.
Mark Twain's self-pasting scrapbook had gummed pages that one would
moisten before adhering various scraps (top left). Shown center
right, an 1880s scrapbooker filled an album with colorful cards
and advertisements. It's speculated the album was solely for visual
value, as it contained no dates or journaling.
Mark Twain was such an avid scrapbooker that he reserved Sundays
for his hobby. He held patents for his invention of self-pasting
scrapbooks that could be dampened with water. By 1901, at least
57 different types of Mark Twain albums were available. Albums could
also be purchased from the Montgomery Ward catalog, but many individuals
created their own albums using different types of cloth for the
Some scrapbooks were collections of brilliantly colored scraps of
paper items in the form of advertising cards or greeting cards arranged
by subject or type of material. Other scrapbooks revealed the lives
of their compilers through the type of items pasted onto the pages
and their arrangement. Other scrapbook hobbyists used their albums
as a form of artistic expression. One scrapbooker dressed the paper
cut-out figures on her pages in actual fabric swatches.
Today, it's a rare scrapbook that doesn't include photographs. Although
earlier generations of scrapbookers began using images in their
albums in the mid-nineteenth century, it wasn't until the Kodak
camera became available in the 1880s that photographs started to
appear in most albums along with scrap. Generally, a photograph
album is not considered a type of scrapbook because it focuses exclusively
on images. As the number of hobbyists declined in the mid-twentieth
century, scrapbooks remained unchanged for several decades as a
combination of photographs, printed materials and family memorabilia
pasted into paper albums.
As family history experienced a resurgence of interest in the 1970s
due to Alex Haley's Roots, scrapbooks once again became a popular
hobby using magnetic photo albums with self- adhesive pages and
plastic cover sheets. At an international genealogy conference in
Salt Lake City in 1980, several individuals exhibited their family
scrapbooks. This created a demand for new products, magazines and
preservation information about scrapbooking, and thus sparked a
Most recently, software allows you to create page layouts and albums
on your computer. You can also post your pages on the Internet to
share with family and friends. And what is a family Web page, but
an electronic version of a scrapbook?
Do you still have family or friends that think creative scrapbooking
is just a fad? Show them this article. Then sit down to scrapbook
with pride, knowing that you play a part in one of the newest developments
of a centuries-old hobby.
©2004 Memory Makers