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

Part I: Traditional Scrapbooks

And what a book! If the true life of the humblest and least known could faithfully spread upon the canvas, it would be such a panorama as the world has never seen. Here a gleam of Poetry, there a long dreary stretch of Prose, now the Tragedy of an accident—nothing to the world but a calamity to him—then a ripple of Fun, a dash of Sentiment, a thrill of Joy, a pang of Grief. These are the scraps that make up our Books; it is the record of us all.

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

In an 1880 manual, E. W. Gurley envisions scrapbooking as a pastime that can be enjoyed by everyone—and a pastime with the potential to preserve the “record of us all” (6). Gurley specifically refers to traditional scrapbooks: those made by using “a good brush, paste, [and a] pair of scissors” to attach newspaper clippings and other paper scraps into a book (36). While scrapbooking had a widespread reputation amongst Victorians for being a feminine, trivial, and disorganized activity,1 Gurley attests to its potential benefits for everyone: “Many beautiful, interesting, and useful thoughts come to us through the newspapers, that are never seen in books, where they can be referred to when wanted: When they are gone they are lost” (9).

Although Gurley likely viewed scrapbooking more poetically than most, the pastime was undeniably undertaken by many people, for a variety of reasons. The next three subsections of the exhibit (named after the headings in Gurley’s manual) explore the details of traditional scissors-and-glue scrapbooking.

Pictured above and below: Examples of traditional scrapbooking. Top right: pages from the Cecelia Davies Sylvester Scrapbook (created between 1886 and 1919); bottom left: pages from the anonymous Theatre Clippings Scrapbook (created between 1884 and 1903); bottom right: pages from the Commonplace Book of Frank Sylvester (created between 1874 and 1907).

Continue to next page: Who Should Keep a Scrap-Book?

  1. Mecklenburg-Faenger par. 18 Back ↑
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