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A History of Scrapbooking

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In 1826, the scrapbooking craze really took off with the publication of John Poole's 'Manuscript Gleanings and Literary Scrapbook while the year previous had seen the publication of a serial titled 'The Scrapbook' which defined a scrapbook as a blank book which held newspaper articles and pictures for preservation. The actual term 'scrapbook' had been coined just a few years earlier because of the bright pieces of paper left over from a printing job, or scrap, that people had begun to paste into their albums for decorative purposes.

Scrapbooks of this time period would have included calling cards, the decorated name cards men and women left at their friends' homes at the start of their visits or to indicate they had stopped by with the intention to visit, national advertising trade cards, religious cards with Biblical inscriptions, rewards of merit for good grades and good behavior for schoolchildren, and carte-de-visite photographs which are better known to us as postcards.

Just as your scrapbooks have a theme, men, women and children of earlier generations also created albums for a variety of purposes. The peak decade for scrapbooks in the nineteenth century was from 1880, when a popular manual became available, to about 1890. Producers of scrap created a demand for their product by offering sheets of scraps in new styles directed at women and children. Magazines featured numerous articles on the value of scrapbooks as a family activity and educational tool. Housewives kept the labels and trade cards from new consumer products and included them in their albums, while male and female college students documented their years at school.

Mark Twain's self-pasting scrapbook had gummed pages that one would moisten before adhering various scraps (top left). Shown center right, an 1880s scrapbooker filled an album with colorful cards and advertisements. It's speculated the album was solely for visual value, as it contained no dates or journaling.
Mark Twain was such an avid scrapbooker that he reserved Sundays for his hobby. He held patents for his invention of self-pasting scrapbooks that could be dampened with water. By 1901, at least 57 different types of Mark Twain albums were available. Albums could also be purchased from the Montgomery Ward catalog, but many individuals created their own albums using different types of cloth for the covers.
Some scrapbooks were collections of brilliantly colored scraps of paper items in the form of advertising cards or greeting cards arranged by subject or type of material. Other scrapbooks revealed the lives of their compilers through the type of items pasted onto the pages and their arrangement. Other scrapbook hobbyists used their albums as a form of artistic expression. One scrapbooker dressed the paper cut-out figures on her pages in actual fabric swatches.

The invention of photography, and its direct ancestors, obviously changed the art of scrapbooking forever as scrappers now had the means to capture scenes of their lives in a way that wasn't possible before with only printed media. Louis-Jacques Daguerre invented the daguerreotype in 1837, but it wasn't until 1839 that this process was made public, so the latter date is often given for the birth of photography. Others quickly refined and added to the evolution of photography with the invention of halftone plates and photo engraving in the last half of the nineteenth century until George Eastman marketed his Kodak camera and photographic rolled film in 1888 and completely revolutionized the entire photographic industry up to that point.

There was a sharp decline in scrapbook popularity around 1940 as photo albums were being mass produced and people began to focus on photography as a hobby, but luckily for us, the publication of Alex Haley's 'Roots,' a story which alleged to tell his family's history and autobiography back to eighteenth century Africa, in the mid-1970s as well as a surge in genealogical research gave rise to a renewed interest in scrapbooking and preserving family history in such a fashion.

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