A Brief History of Scrapbooking in America

by Debbie Hodge

From my interview with Patricia Buckler, co-editor of The Scrapbook in American Life in 2006.

“Scrapbooking is not just a craft or a way to pass the time, but a serious activity designed to speak to the future about life as we know it,” says Buckler. The essays in her book are written by historians, librarians, and curators. Think about it: today’s scrapbook is tomorrow’s artifact. My favorite essay described “scrapbook houses,” which were made by girls and women between 1875 and 1920. They were self-contained worlds full of realistic and fanciful details as well as pieces of mass market magazine advertisements–what we would now call “collage albums.” Other essays look at the scrapbooks of a bordello madam, 19th century medical practitioners, the author Willa Cather, children, and housewives.

Buckler’s advice to current-day scrapbook keepers is to “take to heart the importance of including not only photographs and decorations, but also the actual items that represent your experiences—like tickets, programs, certificates, corsages, wedding invitations, and birth announcements. Otherwise,” she says, “We will lose important artifacts about daily life.” She also encourages writing comments in your own handwriting so that your grandchildren will come to recognize it on other family documents.

Timeline of Scrapbooking/Memory Keeping in America

1st century BC – 1st century AD

The Early Greeks used koinoi topoi, or “places in the mind” as memory aids for recreating events and recalling info.

1350 (ish)

The gradual introduction of paper into Europe.

1450 (ish)

The advent of the printing press.

1550 (ish)

With the early Renaissance, artists and collectors preserved prints, bookplates, and other ephemera in albums to make them more available for public use.

1640 (ish)

The Commonplace Book was a blank book kept by both schoolboys and statesmen to gather notes for speeches and writing, and other fragments of memory.


James Granger published a history of England with blank pages so owners could collect and add engravings. Thus, the Grangerized” book came to mean a printed, bound book with blank pages to be personalized by each owner.


With the invention of photography, photographs could now be put into the albums, and the variety of albums available widened.

1850 (ish)

A variety of patented photograph books and scrapbooks became widely marketed, with Mark Twain patenting and marketing his albums as “the only rational scrapbook the world has ever seen.” His book came with pages already coasted with mucilage, and others followed with improved bindings and methods that made pictures easier to manipulate. (1873)


Color printing technologies became available and there were a multitude of cheap, color images available to the general public. In the 1880s, there was a fad among U.S. children, especially girls, of making scrapbooks from  advertising trade cards, calling cards, religions verse cards and the decorative die-cut paper known as “scrap.” The public education movement commended scrapbook keeping as an educational and moral tool. (1880s)

The “snapshot era” was to begin with Kodak introducing lighter-weight print papers and rolled film.


The emphasis in album keeping became more and more on photographs.


A new and growing interest in genealogy created a resurgence of scrapbook keeping.


The Christensen family displayed 50 family albums at the 1980 World Conference of Records in Utah. Soon after they wrote the book “Keeping Memories Alive” and opened The Annex, the first modern-day scrapbook retail store, in Spanish Fork, Utah. Many Mormon families, are required by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to document their family history. Because of the large Mormon population in Utah, many scrapping companies began there.


Improved technology allows scrappers to take digital photos, print photos at home, meet and share with other scrapbookers on the Internet and shop for supplies via the Internet. Scrapbooking’s popularity grows.


Weblogs begin to be used as a place to post thoughts, diary/journal details and photos.

Page layout software, affordable scanners and a variety of new printing options make digital scrapbooking possible. Photos, ephemera and embellishments are created using computer software, saved to a computer file, and stored in a digital album, and/or a printed for inclusion in physical album.

The features of online services like Flickr make online photo sharing and storage affordable and appealing.

Online services let you set up your own photo and video sharing website — your “virtual” scrapbook.


13 Responses to A Brief History of Scrapbooking in America

  1. Donna March 18, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    Thanks Debbie for all the information you are putting on this site. This history article is very interesting. donnanj

    • Debbie Hodge March 19, 2010 at 10:18 am #

      So glad you’re finding the info helpful. Thanks for the note. I appreciate it.

  2. Carolee Demars March 19, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    This is a good post, I stumbled across your article while looking for music downloads. Thanks for sharing, I’ll be sure to recommend this site to others.

  3. Johnsie Almand May 7, 2010 at 6:39 am #

    Cheers for the superb article, do you mind if I quote it on my site? I’ll make sure I a link back.cheers

  4. Mel Boccard June 8, 2010 at 4:09 am #

    I really have to thank you, this was good to read!

  5. ubot studio promo August 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    Just been reccommeded your blog by my sister who is a long time subscriber. I have been reading several others in a similar niche too. I will definitely be going to add your site to my ‘montly blogs to read’ list.

  6. Carl Hahn December 2, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    Interesting article on scrap booking. Never would have thought it went back far in time. I will have to add a page in my website, http://www.digital-photography-technology.com, regarding scrap booking of photographs.

  7. Carl Hahn January 7, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    I belong to the Tampa Bay Computer Society where we have a number of classes and one class is devoted to scrap booking.

  8. Nicole May 4, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Good website:)

  9. wedding photography melbourne May 11, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    really impressive article, and nice collection of information you are putting here..


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  2. Scrapbooking America | scrapbooking - October 23, 2014

    […] A Brief History of Scrapbooking in America – Scrapbooking … – by Debbie Hodge. From my interview with Patricia Buckler, co-editor of The Scrapbook in American Life in 2006. “Scrapbooking is not just a craft or a way to pass the time, but a serious activity designed to speak to the future about life as we know it,” says Buckler. […]

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