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

Making the Book

After trying various kinds of books I have found the Patent Office Reports the most suitable. They are just the size for two columns, and being of ordinary book size, are better adapted to the library than larger and more cumbrous books prepared expressly for scrap-books, and which are too wide for the ordinary bookcase shelves.

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

Part of the delight of collecting scraps, of course, was pasting them into what would become a personalized volume. The activity of pasting individually selected materials into books had been popular since the middle of the eighteenth century, with the practice of extra-illustration (later known as “grangerizing”).1 A key difference is that with extra-illustration, book owners used scraps to complement and enhance the original content of published books. With scrapbooking, book owners used scraps to override old content (if there was any) and create something entirely new.

As blank scrapbook albums are still popular craft store purchases today, it might be hard to imagine erasing the contents of a published book by pasting in collections of scraps. Garvey aptly describes that many feel such an idea to be “as outrageous as cannibalism” (Writing with Scissors 53). Yet, this is exactly what many Victorians did. When books became cheaper, people became less hesitant about repurposing print books to create personalized scrapbooks.2

Pictured above: Select images from the Muriel Gerrard Scrapbook (created in 1891). Gerrard's scrapbook was made by repurposing a copy of F. Edward Hulme's Flower Painting in Water Colours.

Patent office reports, which Gurley expresses preference for, were often turned into scrapbooks.3 Other commonly used books ranged from “outdated school textbooks and government reports to used business, farm, and plantation ledgers, and to novels, sermon collections, and Bibles” (Garvey, Writing with Scissors 52). Muriel Gerrard’s scrapbook (SC236), housed at the University of Victoria and featured in full later in this exhibit, is an example of a scrapbook made by recycling a print book: specifically, a copy of F. Edward Hulme’s Flower Painting in Water Colours.

While some people preferred recycling unwanted books, others jumped at the chance to purchase one of the many blank albums manufactured specifically for the purpose of scrapbooking.4 Often, these albums contained elaborate bindings, and some announced their status as scrapbook on the front cover or the spine.5


In the United States, one of the most commonly purchased pre-made scrapbooks was the Mark Twain Scrap Book.6 A lesser known fact about Twain is that he invented a pre-pasting scrapbook—as a practiced scrapbooker himself, Twain knew that, in the words of Gurley, “You must have good paste, or your book will be a failure” (46). To avoid messy paste altogether, the pages of Twain’s Scrap Book were coated with a substance that becomes sticky when moistened. Twain patented his invention in the United States in 1873, and then in England and France in 1877. The endeavor was a success, and Twain earned a significant income from it (some reports are as high as $50,000).7

Cecelia Sylvester’s scrapbook (AR281), featured in full later in this exhibit, was assembled in a Mark Twain Scrap Book.

Pictured below: Pages from the Cecelia Davies Sylvester Scrapbook, created using a Mark Twain Scrap Book. The volume features pre-glued pages, following the traditional two-column page layout.

Whether chosen scrapbooks were repurposed or brand new, it was important that Victorian era scrap collections were contained within a book. As Garvey writes, scrapbook makers “saw the binding and the rest of the physical book as valuable,” particularly because the form “conferred dignity and authority” on the newspaper clippings and other scraps contained within (“Scissoring and Scrapbooks” 15, 17). By displaying personally significant collections of scraps inside of books, Victorians declared the importance of their own stories.

Continue to next page: Traditional Scrapbooks in Archives

  1. Mecklenburg-Faenger par. 4 Back ↑
  2. Garvey, Writing with Scissors 22 Back ↑
  3. Gurley 35 Back ↑
  4. Mecklenburg-Faenger par. 6 Back ↑
  5. Garvey, “Scissoring and Scrapbooks” 215 Back ↑
  6. Mecklenburg-Faenger par. 6 Back ↑
  7. Mecklenburg-Faenger par. 5 Back ↑
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