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

Victorian Scrapbooks/Albums

While collecting things in books started long before the Victorian era, the practice was initially accessible only to elite groups. This changed throughout the nineteenth century, with the proliferation of cheap printed materials. By the middle of the century, scrapbooking was commonly enjoyed by the middle classes, and, according to Good, the “popularity of scrapbooking surged with the rise of ephemeral printed texts and visuals in the late nineteenth century, following developments in steam-powered printing, embossing, chromolithography and railway transport” (563-4). After these developments, almost anyone could save printed matter intended to be ephemeral—newspaper clippings, greeting cards, ticket stubs.1 Books, too, could be cheap to purchase or even free of charge. While some scrapbook/album makers purchased commercially made albums, others recycled cheap and unwanted books, even catalogues, for their scrapbooking ventures.2

The availability of cheap, ephemeral printed materials also resulted in people pasting clippings into their commonplace books and diaries. This made it difficult to draw boundaries between previously distinct genres. The result is that the term “scrapbook” came to have a very flexible definition; a scrapbook can be both a commonplace book and a scrapbook, a diary and a scrapbook, or even a combination of other forms.3

Commonplace book of Frank Sylvester - Scrapbook Newspaper Clipping

Pictured above: Pages from the Commonplace Book of Frank Sylvester (created between 1874 and 1907), incorporating scrapbooking techniques. More information on this scrapbook can be found in the exhibit's annotated list.

Although it is tempting to define the term "scrapbook" as a book with collected printed materials pasted onto its pages, Victorians collected many other types of things in their scrapbooks: letters, locks of hair, pressed flowers and other specimens, for a few examples.4 Further, the collected “things” in scrapbooks were not always objects. Lynch writes, the term was “readily used to identify books that had never been in proximity with a paste pot and whose contents were mainly copied in by hand” (95). As mentioned previously, “scrapbook” and “album” were often used interchangeably, both simply indicating that things, or likely a combination of types of things, were being collected in books.5

Pictured above: Select scrapbook/album pages showing range of things often collected—in this case, scraps, signatures, and seaweed.

Despite—or perhaps due to—the changeable boundaries of the practice, scrapbooking became so popular during the nineteenth (and early twentieth) century that numerous scrapbooking and album-making manuals were published. Newspapers, too, often published articles on the subject.6 It was not just Victorian Britain that was fascinated with scrapbooking, either. Similar practices took place in other parts of Europe, as well as in Canada and the United States.7 Highly accessible to a variety of populations, scrapbooking became a way for people to preserve typically ephemeral fragments from their lives between the bounds of a book. As Zytaruk writes, “In its ideal form, the Victorian album was envisioned as an autobiographical repository filled with traces of one’s reading, travels, experiences” (197).

Continue to next page: Exhibit Scrapbooks/Albums

  1. Good 564 Back ↑
  2. Mecklenburg-Faenger par. 6 Back ↑
  3. Zboray and Zboray 102, 107 Back ↑
  4. Good 562 and Zytaruk 185 Back ↑
  5. Lynch 94-5 Back ↑
  6. Mecklenburg-Faenger par. 1, 5 Back ↑
  7. Hunt v-vi Back ↑
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