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

Gathering the Materials

Where shall we get the materials or items for our books?


Look at every old paper, almanac, circular, and scrap of paper before throwing it away. It will astonish you to see how many things people trample under their feet which should be put into their heads.

– E. W. Gurley, Scrap-Books and How to Make Them (1880)

The contents of traditional scissors-and-glue scrapbooks are inevitably as varied as their creators. According to Good’s definition, these scrapbooks contain “personal media assemblages: individualized collections of media fragments both original and appropriated, including notes, messages, photographs, symbolic tokens, and snippets of meaningful items” (559).

Meaningful items looked different for everyone, but the contents of scrapbooks were necessarily dictated by the types of paper scraps that were available. In the first half of the nineteenth century, scrapbooks were dominated by textual materials.1 As printing became easier and cheaper, the publication of newspapers and magazines increased exponentially—circulation of printed matter was more widespread than ever before, and ownership of (albeit ephemeral) reading materials became a possibility for many.2

Publishers became aware that their newspapers were being cut up and glued into books. Some responded by printing “troves of tidbits and factoids—household hints, information about word origins, geographic one-liners, and scientific or historic or agricultural items. . . . Some miscellany even carried headings such as ‘for the scrapbook’” (Garvey, Writing with Scissors 7). Others responded with the production of cheap picture sheets (hand-coloured for a higher price) that children could cut out and add to their own scrap collections.3

Cecelia Davies Sylvester Early Scrapbook - Traditional Scrapbook Pages

Pictured above: Pages from the Cecelia Davies Sylvester Early Scrapbook (created between 1854 and 1928). The pages feature scraps cut out from the "tidbits" section of the newspaper. More information on this scrapbook can be found in the exhibit's annotated list.

In the latter half of the century, collection of visual scrapbook materials became more common. Developments in colour printing methods meant that vibrantly illustrated scraps were easier to obtain. Many bought chromolithography sheet scraps featuring colourful images of childhood, flowers, and famous figures.4 Starting in the 1850s, retailers began producing die-cut scraps (also known as reliefs or chromos), and these were popular from the 1870s until the early twentieth century.5 Designed specifically for scrapbook makers, die-cuts were colourful, glossy, and embossed.6

Pictured above: A selection of colourful scraps from the Cecelia Davies Sylvester Early Scrapbook (more information in the exhibit's annotated list).

Business owners of the time were aware of the widespread desire for aesthetically pleasing scraps, and they designed their marketing materials accordingly; on trade cards, for example, businesses began using chromolithography to print images of flowers, birds, etc. beside their brand names. Advertisements began showing up in late nineteenth century scrapbooks, beside newspaper clippings, die-cuts, greeting cards, and other mementos.7

Cecelia Davies Sylvester Scrapbook - Traditional Scrapbook Pages

Pictured above: Collection of marketing materials in the Cecelia Davies Sylvester Scrapbook (created between 1886 and 1919).

Continue to next page: Making the Book

  1. Good 564 Back ↑
  2. Garvey, Writing with Scissors 6 Back ↑
  3. Warrington "Early Picture Sheets" and "The Victorian Scrap" Back ↑
  4. Mecklenburg-Faenger par. 8 and Warrington "Chromo-litho Sheet Scraps" Back ↑
  5. Warrington "The Golden Era" and "The Victorian Scrap" Back ↑
  6. Oatman-Stanford par. 3 and Warrington "The Golden Era" and "The Victorian Scrap" Back ↑
  7. Good 564 Back ↑
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