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“Yes, this is my album” Victorian Collections of Scraps, Signatures, and Seaweed

A Scientific and Artistic Pursuit

The remarkable differences that separate the marine from the terrestrial flora in their general and more distinctive characters, will engage the attention of the least reflective and unscientific rambler who, perchance, may recline upon the shining sand, listening to the chiming of the waves amongst distant boulders and the periodical breaking of the surf hard by, while disentangling a mass of weeds that the sea has cast ashore as an invitation to the study of its treasures. Such an one will be struck by the strange colours, the swollen stems, the disc-like feet that serve as roots.

– Shirley Hibberd, The Seaweed Collector: A Handy Guide to the Marine Botanist (1872)

Pictured above: A range of seaweed specimens collected in the Edward Morell Holmes Herbarium.

As seaweed collecting grew in popularity around the same time as scrapbooking did, collected seaweed specimens often found their way into albums. Although they are less commonly found in archives than traditional scrapbooks or autograph albums, seaweed albums were incredibly popular during the Victorian era.1 Notable figures who made seaweed albums include Queen Victoria, George Eliot, Canadian artist Mary A. Robinson, and English children’s book author Margaret Gatty. Gatty even wrote a seaweed collecting manual, and was such an integral figure to the fad that she later had a seaweed species, Gattya pinella, named after her.2

During the Victorian era, seaweed albums could be found on drawing room tables, featured in exhibitions, sold in shops, or stored in scientists’ offices.3 Likewise, their contents varied widely. Some were unlabeled, purely decorative, and sometimes even had specimens shaped into monograms, bouquets, and wreaths.4 Other albums contained specimens arranged systematically, with clearly labeled scientific names, dates, and locations—this type is exemplified by the exhibit's only featured seaweed album, which was created by British botanist Edward Morell Holmes. Holmes' album (AR069) is housed at the University of Victoria and featured in full slightly later in this exhibit.

Pictured above: Pages from the Edward Morell Holmes Herbarium, arranged and labeled for scientific study.

The varying degrees to which seaweed albums were meant to be scientific or artistic resulted in a genre of scrapbook/album that is difficult to categorize. Making things murkier, album makers would sometimes collect seaweed specimens, autographs, and die-cuts all in the same book.5 Realistically, these albums function simultaneously in the realms of science, art, and memorabilia.6

Pictured above: Specimens collected by Edward Morell Holmes. The specimens on the left have been placed decoratively on the paper: an unusual example in Holmes' scientifically-arranged seaweed album.

Continue to next page: Collecting, Preserving, and Arranging

  1. Oatman-Stanford par. 14 Back ↑
  2. Giaimo par. 2, 7, 15 and President and Fellows of Harvard College par. 1 Back ↑
  3. Duggins 125 Back ↑
  4. Zytaruk 195 and Duggins 127 Back ↑
  5. “RARE 19th C Victorian Scrap Album” Back ↑
  6. Zytaruk 187 Back ↑
< Part III: Seaweed Albums Collecting, Preserving, and Arranging >