What’s wrong with my scrapbook?

The library at BHS is lucky enough to have a great team of interns working on all kinds of projects from answering your reference questions to scanning historic images to cataloging archival collections. Today we’ll hear from Katy Christensen, who has been working in the archives processing and cataloging archive, manuscript and photo collections, about some of her recent work.

Scrapbooking has become increasingly popular in recent years and one can now find webpages devoted entirely to scrapbook layouts and suggested themes. They are hardly a new phenomenon, however. Scrapbooks have been around for well over a century and we have dozens in our collection. They present a fascinating conundrum to the archivist as they have both benefits and drawbacks as methods of preserving the historical record. Different materials need different conditions for optimal preservation, so having a photograph glued opposite a newspaper article is not particularly good for either material. And the less said about glue the better. But from the perspective of the cultural historian, there is valuable information in the associations made by the scrapbook’s creator between different materials. Whether the organization is chronological or thematic, why a person or society kept materials together is fascinating.

Eckford Club New Year's Card

I recently had the pleasure of processing one of our scrapbooks and found some amazing and delightful materials inside. Sadly, the condition of the materials, and the book itself, is poor and the materials would have been much better served to have been saved separately. This collection, that of the Eckford Social Club, covers a variety of topics over its length. Many of these materials would not have been associated with each other were it not for their current domicile and the value of the materials is in large part in the information conveyed by the whole, rather than by the parts.

The collection covers the years 1871-1961, with a particular concentration of information between 1899 and 1956. It is predominately composed of newspaper clippings relating to the club’s members. They were in a variety of fields throughout New York and thus the clippings cover many topics: medical advances, judicial appointments, and political races among others. The club had a particular interest in baseball, having been founded as a baseball club and only later evolving into a social club. A few of the members had a share in the Brooklyn Dodgers, and one of them received a Christmas card from Babe Ruth in 1931.

Christmas Card from Babe Ruth

There are other treasures in the collection, such as a discussion on the role of the wife by a bachelor magistrate which would make any modern woman cringe, a sweet article about a Prospect Park gardener, cartoonish watercolor images, and charming post cards.

Women and Marriage ClippingProspect Park Gardener ClippingWatercolorWatercolorTwo PostcardsPostcard

It is fascinating to see these disparate items together; to see them linked to sports scores, political campaigns, and obituaries; and to know that there was a group of men who found each of these items interesting enough to keep. But the downsides of scrapbooking are just as easy to see. The earlier photographs have all faded and the figures within them are often difficult to distinguish.

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The later photographs are not as damaged, but it is only a matter of time.

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So what is the moral of this story? Think before you scrapbook. There are better ways to store your images and ephemera. If, however, you feel determined to keep them together, there are ways to at least alleviate the stresses that multiple media will place on each other. Use acid free paper. Use photo corners or dots and avoid glue and tape. I only urge that you make an informed decision before committing your memories to a possibly hazardous home.

For more information about safe scrapbooking, here is a good article on the subject.

Chela

About Chela

I am the Director of Library and Archives at the Brooklyn Historical Society. I joined the BHS team in 2008. Prior to that, I was lucky enough to work in the archives of two other great history museums-- The New York Transit Museum and The Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford outside of Detroit.
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2 Responses to What’s wrong with my scrapbook?

  1. Teresa says:

    I love looking back at old scrapbooks. I am glad that we now know that acid has very bad effects on scrapbooks. These are some great finds you have here

  2. Sady Sullivan Sady says:

    wow Katy, this really interesting; I love seeing the images and I’m curious about the idea of group scrapbooks that are not family-based. What’s the new media equivalent? Flickr groups?

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