An unknown author once mused, “Birth certificates show that you were born, death certificates show that you died, scrapbooks show that you really lived.” This philosophy has been adopted by the 25 million Americans who claim scrapbooking as one of their hobbies. Although the majority of established scrapbookers are senior women, this pastime invites both men and women of all ages, backgrounds, and creeds to exercise their creativity while preserving nostalgic memories of past experiences.

While the invention of the digital camera has made scrapbooking a much more accessible activity over the course of the past few decades, this pastime was formerly reserved for the elite. During the Renaissance, wealthy and educated Europeans often kept an early form of scrapbook known as a commonplace book. Similar to the modern scrapbook, commonplace books were designed to store and organize clippings from a variety of print sources. However, rather than preserving fond memories, commonplace books were academic in nature.

After Bibles began to be printed in large volumes, many families utilized their Bible as a sort of scrapbook. Births, marriages, and deaths were customarily recorded in the first few pages of the Bible with significant documents and mementoes being stored in between the remaining pages. Some nineteenth century Bibles even contained portrait slots to help families organize tangible pieces of their history.

Perhaps the first great American scrapbooker was Thomas Jefferson. During this presidency, Jefferson maintained an album of newspaper clippings that chronicled his political endeavors and accomplishments. Scrapbooking did not become popular with middle-class Americans until 1826 when John Poole published Manuscript Gleanings, a book designed to instruct readers in the art of scrapbooking. Since cameras were not readily available in the 1800s, nineteenth century scrapbookers commonly filled pages with poems, calling cards, religious handouts, and letters.

Scrapbooking fell out of favor with the American public after supplies became scarce during the Great Depression. The subsequent series of World Wars caused additional shortages in scrapbooking supplies, and the introduction of photo albums helped prevent scrapbooking from regaining America’s attention. It was not until the 1980s that scrapbooking experienced another surge in popularity in the United States. Ever since, millions of Americans have enjoyed creating colorful pages that tell meaningful stories about their family history. Vacations, life events, and major accomplishments are common subjects of scrapbook displays, helping illustrate the richness of a life well lived. Have some extra time on your hands? Why not try scrapbooking!


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