Antique scrapbooks: Layouts & scrapping ideas from long ago

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Antique scrapbooks

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

Antique scrapbooks have been made for generations — each era having their own creative styles as well as unique subject matter.

Here’s a look back at how and what people were scrapping long ago.

Antique scrapbooks: Collections that are sources of pleasure and profit (1900)

The St Louis Republic (St Louis, Mo.) December 15, 1900

Well-bound scrapbooks, containing photographs taken by the giver, and cuts, clippings and the typewritten quotations suited to the taste of the recipient, are among the newest things for Christmas presents.

One, intended for the mother of a family of little ones contains rhymes and jingles, pictures and stories. Another, for a teacher, is devoted to nature subjects.

For a young theatre-goer, pictures and stories of actors and actresses have been gathered and attractively mounted in a half Russian volume.

Antique Victorian scrapbook page (3)

The clipping file, which threatened to replace the old-fashioned scrapbook, failed as a substitute, and is now used for purely practical purposes, says a writer in the New York Tribune.

Scrapbook-making is one of the fads with which a coterie of women beguile leisure hours. A woman, a pupil of Mary Lyon, in the early days of Mount Holyoke, is responsible for the innocent pastime, which is not without its permanent advantages.

Long before photographs were even known, pictures were common. A schoolgirl, who is now a grandmother, began to save the flew illustrations of notables, historic landmarks and works of art that came in her way, and has continued the habit zealously.

Vintage letters and postcards

The pictures, beginning as they did fifty years ago, and continuing through the present era of generously illustrated tourist books and catalogs, magazines and newspapers, furnish an interesting history of illustrative art.

Her children, grandchildren and friends have adapted the idea to their own tastes, and many are the innovations which they have introduced.

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The various styles of scrapbooking

Antique Victorian scrapbook page (6)

One scrapbook, perhaps, excels all others in originality. A woman who is now middle-aged began in girlhood to amuse herself by planning houses and saving everything bearing on the subject that she could find.

To this day, “when life looks gray,” she busies herself in planning her ideal home, introducing into it innovations suggested by her scrapbook or by her own fertile mind.

She has, indeed, come to be an authority on modern residential architecture, and many are the homes among her friends that owe their beauty, convenience and sanitation to her suggestions.

Antique scrapbook pages - Meade Bros
Courtesy Smithsonian

Another woman makes a specialty of portraits of actors and musicians, and another of authors and painters.

One, an invalid, saves pictures of castles, cathedrals and landscapes, culled from magazines and tourist books sent to her by friends. Besides the pictures, she has stores of famous speeches, everyday facts, and bits of sentiment in poetry and prose.

A series of scrapbooks kept patiently up-to-date by a Brooklyn woman contains a record of important events, accounts of prominent people and descriptions of historic landmarks, all illustrated by cuts from periodicals of various kinds and all pertaining to this city.

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Antique Victorian scrapbook page (5)

One of the unique ideas in the books is the record of the Spanish-American War in cartoon, preserved in a huge tome by a literary woman.

An “All the Year” scrapbook, originated by a young girl, has been imitated by a number of her friends.

These scrapbooks are of the largest dimensions, and are divided into sections which are variously headed Rainy Days,” “Windy Days,” “Gray Days,” “Bleak Days.” etc. In each department are pasted clippings and pictures, the latter often being photographs adapted to the subject.

Victorian antique scrapbook albums (2)

Nature scrapbooks, containing everything of interest on nature subjects, are the latest departures. Pressed flowers, ferns, leaves, photographs and original drawings are used in them.

The process is half the fun

Said a veritable “scrapbook fiend” the other day, “It is not so much the saving of clippings or pictures for future use or enjoyment that recommends the habit as the fact that the act of cutting and filing impresses the thing upon one’s mind, making it one’s very own.

“Once I have cut out a picture of anything, with its little story, I have gained an interest in the original that is an aid to further study of it.”

Antique scrapbook of old houses and street scenes

For children, the paste pot and scissors, every mother knows, furnish no end of entertainment. Ellen Ruby Perry in The Mothers’ Journal, says, “If you have ever known the joy of making a scrapbook, begin today.

Make one for yourself and your children, with the help of the little people, and make one for some other mother. The little ones can find children in the hospital, the orphans’ homes, in the families of missionaries and the tenement houses, with hands outstretched to receive them.

Good is best when soonest wrought,
Lingering labels come to naught.

Therefore, do not delay. Make each scrapbook do the work of a missionary in the home which it enter.

Memories in a vintage scrapbook


The delights of a scrapbook: Some of the ways that people were scrapping in the late Victorian era (1898)

The Evening Times (Washington, D.C.) March 13, 1898

If carefully planned and executed, it becomes a veritable joy

Few people know how much pleasure is to be got out of that old-fashioned contrivance, a scrapbook.

By this is not meant merely a collection of sticky pages illy covered with more or less interesting clippings from newspapers, consisting mainly of poetry and that of the sentimental or melancholy order. Under the hands of a clever woman, a scrapbook becomes a creation of real genius.

MORE: Antique & vintage buttons: Why people love to collect these tiny treasures

Some of the ways that people were scrapping in the late Victorian era

Not long since a bright woman who has done some very creditable newspaper work was asked by a friend for a set of her articles, describing a trip into new countries.

The bright young writer got a good-sized scrapbook covered in soft brown leather, and in this she pasted her chatty columns, not in dull regular rows, but interspersed and intermingled with all manner of suggestive sketches, pictures head and tail pieces, and marginal jottings, cut from picture papers, catalogs and old magazines.

With such nice discrimination had she selected these pictures, so appropriately did they fill her text, and with such exquisite neatness did she perform the mechanical work, that her scrapbook, when finished, actually possessed a very considerable intrinsic value.

Victorian antique scrapbook albums (1)

The same young lady, desiring to amuse a sick friend, first secured a collection of new and good anecdotes. These she scrapbooked with illustrations, and her little gift has the charm of infinite variety which it will take a great deal of custom to stale.

Children should be taught the art and beauty as well as the value of scrapbooks. The helter-skelter scrapbook made without rhyme or reason, with facts and fictions and poetry all pasted in just as they came to hand, is an unsightly affair and offends any well-ordered mind.

The art of making a scrapbook has its own peculiar graces, and the making should afford an intellectual pleasure of a very high order.

ALSO SEE: Antique toys: See what kids played with a long time ago – and that people collect now

Antique Victorian scrapbook page (1)


This newspaper article is beautifully prophetic, given that it was written more than 120 years ago.

My favorite line of this whole story is at the end. So you don’t miss it: Scrapbooks “keep for another time what one day made us smile or weep; a biography, a history, a journal written by a thousand other hands, and yet our own.”

Stack of old love letters

Scrapbooks, their value, and the changes in taste which they show (1894)

The Lafayette Gazette (Lafayette, La.) October 6, 1894

Antique scrapbooks as a history of life, of feeling, of the emotions of one’s heart – Perspectives on our place in time

Who so keepeth a scrapbook keepeth a good thing, and the manner in which it is kept is an indication of the presence or absence of certain qualities in the “keeper,” as order, perseverance, continuity of purpose and fixedness of memory.

Victorian scrapbooks

A scrapbook is, moreover, an index of literary taste and feeling, and a scrapbook, or a series of scrapbooks kept for a number of years, shows how that taste may change, broaden and rise with reading and the reception of new ideas and impressions.

Could we have all the scrapbooks of one lifetime extending from youth to age, we should have a literary history of that life. Those scrapbooks are most interesting and valuable which may be classified as personal; kept by someone individual for personal use and behoof; which record the workings of one brain and, in a way, the emotions of one heart.

MORE: The romance of antique photos: Looking back at images of the 19th century

Big beautiful butterfly - Perspectives on our place in time from 1894

These, preserved, become in time histories and autobiographies. Next in interest to these private scrapbooks are those which are kept for a purpose; to collect and preserve facts in regard to some event in history; some historical character, as Washington or Napoleon, or better yet, some contemporary personage.

From these the biographer of the future may collect his choicest material; for be it known that newspapers from which scrapbooks are generally made are no led longer the “abstract and brief chronicles” of the time, but are extended and even diffuse chronicles, telling all there is to tell.

Anyone who has had occasion to write a post-mortem sketch of any modern statesman has me found his facts stated at length, not in books, but in newspapers. And yet newspapers are evanescent and perishable.

Antique Victorian scrapbook page (7)

Out of the one hundred thousand copies a newspaper issued on a certain day, it is quite possible that to every copy may have disappeared in a few days, except the half-dozen preserved on files.

It is well, then, that the scrapbook keeps the cream, the gem, the one poem, or sketch, or speech or story that made a certain copy of the newspaper sought after and valuable for clipping purposes.

It is a fact that every reading person must have noticed, that there is not in the world a perfect book of quotations. Complete as the work on hand may be, it frequently does not contain the line, the verse, the “eloquent extract” one is looking for.

Scrapbooks, old scrapbooks, are the repositories of these things; these poems by unknown authors; by the poets who wrote but one poem each, and never got credit for that. These are very often resurrected from antique scrapbooks and sent on their anonymous round through the newspapers, to be again secured in the scrapbooks, and, again, for a time forgotten.

ALSO SEE: How to make old-fashioned apple head dolls: Get vintage shrunken apple DIY craft directions, details & photos

Antique Victorian scrapbook page (4)

The scrapbook, or rather the keeping of it, is an aid to the memory. One does not entirely forget that which he takes time to cut out of a book or newspaper and fasten to the receptive page, and perhaps (as he should) record it in an index.

He retains a portion of it, a scrap of the scrap, as it were, in his mind, so that in any event he knows where to find it.

The practice of keeping scrapbooks, considered by many persons old-fashioned, is none the less an excellent fashion; preserving to us in our youth; keep for another time what one day made us smile or weep; a biography, a history, a journal written by a thousand other hands, and yet our own.

Vintage Scrapbooks as a history of life, of feeling, of the emotions of one's heart - Ethel Leland

Now: A poem from 1894

If you have a kind word — say it,
Throbbing hearts soon sink to rest;
If you owe a kindness — pay it,
Life’s sun hurries to the west.

Can you do a kind deed — do it,
From despair some soul to save;
Bless each day as you pass through it,
Marching onward to the grave.

If some grand thing for to-morrow
You are dreaming — do it now;
From the future do not borrow;
Frost soon gathers on the brow.

Speak thy word, perform thy duty,
Night is coming deep with rest;
Stars will gleam in fadeless beauty,
Grasses whisper o’er thy breast.

Days for deeds are few, my brother,
Then to-day fulfill thy vow;
If you mean to help another,
Do not dream it — do it now.

Antique Victorian scrapbook page (2)

NOW SEE THIS: Sweet antique baby portraits: 24 cute cabinet card photos of baby boys & girls in the 1800s

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