Scrapbooks are bound albums filled with paper ephemera, from plain written receipts to colorfully illustrated die-cuts. The modern form of scrapbooking appeared at the beginning of the 19th century, when steam power and rotary cylinders improved printing technology. Soon, scrapbooking became a way of processing the endless stream of printed paper being produced, allowing crafters to select items worthy of remembrance.
The earliest scrap albums often included handwritten passages from famous literature, cuttings from newspapers and magazines, and personal notes or mementos pasted or glued onto blank pages. Many also featured a special frontispiece or title page print indicating the album’s sentimental purpose.
During the Victorian Era, middle-class households would often have a family scrap album, where the bits of paper collected each day could be collaged onto its thick pages. Ticket stubs, brochures, greeting cards, newspaper clippings, paper dolls, postcards, business cards, ribbons, literary excerpts, and eventually photographs were all preserved on the pages of these memory books. At the same time, a growing fascination with the natural world led people to incorporate dried plant specimens into their albums, which were soon filled with everything from wildflowers to seaweed.
In response to the scrapbooking trend, 19th-century bookmakers designed blank albums with elaborate, tooled-leather covers, gilt paper edgings, and engraved clasps. The earliest materials explicitly produced as die-cut “scrap” for decorating homemade albums were black-and-white, hand-colored etchings. As lithography processes improved, bright colors, textured embossing, and glossy finishes were employed to enhance the printed imagery.
By the late 1800s, Britain, Germany, and the United States had become the leaders in such scrap production. Successful companies like Currier & Ives and Raphael Tuck & Sons created beautiful scrap pieces alongside smaller brands like Allen & Ginter and Littauer & Boysen.
Scraps, also called reliefs, chromos, or die-cuts, were sold in large sheets connected with small paper strips and gummed-backing, making for easy removal and pasting. These pre-cut shapes often featured the romantic themes so popular at the time, such as lush floral arrangements, domesticated animals, angels and cherubs, exotic birds, fashionable women, and holiday themes like Valentine’s Day or Christmas.