Monday, July 21, 2008
I bought a stack of scrapbooks and unused photo albums...the kind with the black or ivory paper...at the flea market last week. I cannot resist them. These were never used. They are ready for a 21st century touch. I remember the little black corners we would buy so that we could arrange pictures on the pages. How far we have come with our digital technology...or have we?
When you google “define scrapbook,” you get all kinds of possibilities. I like this one: a book, similar to a notebook or journal, in which personal or family memorabilia and photos are collected and arranged.
For all of the hoopla over scrapbooking today, it is actually traces its roots to the Victorians. The printing press and particularly chromolithographs—color lithography-brought a new dimension to paper goods. By the 1880s, trade cards had become a major way of advertising America's products and services. Both children and adults would collect the cards and paste them into scrapbooks. You may find someone selling the trade cards that have been removed from albums—you will see residue of the glue on the back.
The Baker Library at Harvard owns 1000s "of trade cards representing the full range of products and businesses advertised through this medium from the 1870s to the end of the 1890s.” They are now cataloging and digitizing an initial group of 1,000 trade cards that are representative of Baker's collections and of the genre itself. It is an interesting way to view history by looking at the advertisements of the day.
Other kinds of paper goods were also pasted in the albums. Calling cards printed with a man's or woman's name in a fancy script were exchanged on social occasions and also as tokens of affection. They were saved as a measure of one's popularity—again think of the “counters” we have today on web sites, Facebook, My Space…even the number of comments on a blog!
Holiday cards at first were sent only on New Year's, Valentine's Day, and Christmas. By the 1880s there were cards also for birthdays and Easter. Most cards of the period were not folded but were rectangles or shapes printed on stiff paper or cardboard. They usually had an illustration and either just a simple holiday greeting or a verse. Some were embossed or had a fancy edge of lace or fringe.
Picture postcard collecting was extremely popular from about 1902 to 1915. Though postcards had existed on a modest scale earlier, it was the Columbian Exposition of 1893 that helped create interest in scenic cards. Changes in postal regulations and the appearance of American postcard publishers helped stimulate proliferation of the cards.
Elaborate cards were also given to students in schools and Sunday schools and often found their way into scrapbooks. Perhaps in the attic is your first report card pasted in a scrapbook. Another popular item was a die-cut sheet of "scraps" that could be torn or cut apart easily because the images were held together by small paper tabs. A sheet would reflect a single theme like flowers or children or Christmas. Scraps date from the 1840s onward, and most in the 19th century came from Germany. They were inexpensive to buy and were widely used to decorate cards or to paste in decorative array into blank books, hence "scrapbooks." Nowadays we have stickers, but you can get reproductions of the Victorian scraps like the one shown here.
A scrapbook could be home to tickets, newspaper clippings, magazine photos, whatever struck the owner's fancy. They are the threads of that person's life. Although many of the Victorian era scrapbooks did not survive well, every now and then one will show up.
Ironically, in today’s cyber world, paper has gained importance through the scrapbooking revival. Of course, there are punches, stickers, papers, and elaborate trimmings, but it is good to see a return to something that can be touched beyond the virtual world. But, no matter what time zone they come from, they reflect a time, a memory, a life.
Posted by Susan at 5:00 AM