The Paradox of Scrapbooks

Archivists collect things, therefore we must love scrapbooks, those bound collections of ephemera from our lives, right? Not exactly.  Many times the books have been constructed of brittle paper that loses bits and pieces each time a page is turned. Glue and tape dry up, scattering yellowed newspaper clippings. Preserving them requires more resources than most small archives, such as ours, have. Additionally, the contents often have more sentimental value to the creator than historical value to the archives. As an educational institution, the Connecticut Historical Society gravitates to more information-rich pieces when collecting. This is not to say scrapbooks lack interesting items. Their appeal, though, is primarily visual. They are simply limited in their ability to impart knowledge. Three scrapbooks recently cataloged depict the weaknesses, both intellectually and physically, of scrapbooks in our archives.

It might be fun to title a biography about Lucius Barnes Barbour, His Dance Card Was Always Full. Barbour, a Hartford native who later in life was known for his genealogical work, kept a scrapbook of his school days, from 1892 to 1896 (Ms 62359).  While the scrapbook contains ticket stubs from Yale-Harvard games, calling cards, Valentines, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera, there is an abundance of dance cards. Rarely, it seems, was Barbour without a partner. The dances ranged from a Leap Year Assembly at the City Mission Hall to Drills and Receptions of the Asylum Hill Cadets, dances that followed theatrical performances, senior class receptions, and benefits for the Hartford Public High School Athletic Association. Whether it was a Polka, Waltz, Two-step, or Caprice, Barbour was on the floor.

Lucius B. Barbour scrapbook, 1892-1896, Ms 62359. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Dance cards, Lucius B. Barbour scrapbook, 1892-1896, Ms 62359. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

When trying to construct a story, it is difficult to learn much from the dance cards. Of far more educational value would be Barbour’s diary, with entries detailing where he learned to dance, which ones were his favorites, or other details that would allow us to fully understand teenage dancing in Hartford circa 1895. With regard to preservation, the top photograph demonstrates that glue has a limited lifespan.

Case, Lockwood & Brainard was a printing firm in Hartford, Connecticut. Their scrapbook (Ms 62347) contains samples of items they produced for clients between 1867 and 1881. It includes many menus, concert programs, church events, and school events. Organizations represented include the Hartford Club, Allyn House, the United States Hotel, St. John’s Church, and Hartford Public High School.  Groups in other towns, including Meriden and Bristol, are in the volume as well. Some individuals had items printed, too. In 1868 the company printed a Thanksgiving menu for Warren Burr of Hartford!

Silk menus, Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co. scrapbook, 1867-1881, Ms 62347. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Event programs, Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co. scrapbook, 1867-1881, Ms 62347. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Warren E. Burr Thanksgiving menu, Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co. scrapbook, 1867-1881, Ms 62347. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The many menus tells provide a glimpse into the culinary habits of the late 1800s, but little else. Who made the final decisions about what would be served at Burr’s Thanksgiving? How many people were invited to the feast? How much did he pay to have the menus printed? While enjoyable to look at and wonder about, the menus and programs lead to more questions than answers.

The architectural firm Cook, Hapgood & Co. kept a scrapbook (Ms 62321) of news clippings associated with the firm’s work and partners. For researchers it can be helpful to have all of these items in one volume, but one argument that could be made against keeping such a scrapbook (don’t worry, it isn’t going anywhere) is that it is duplicate material. Shelving space is limited and our building isn’t getting any larger, so keeping duplicate material is not necessarily in our best interest. Whether hardcopy, microfilm, or internet, we already have access to complete sets of current and past Hartford newspapers. There is much more utility to the complete sets than the clippings.

Cook, Hapgood & Co. scrapbook, 1889-1898, Ms 62321a. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Ironically, if you wondered at all about the City Mission Hall, where Barbour attended the Leap Year Dance, some of your questions could be answered by the Cook, Hapgood scrapbook. As shown below, they were the architects of the building. The photograph also demonstrates the effect of newsprint acid on the pages of a scrapbook. The left hand page has been discolored by the clippings on the right.

Cook, Hapgood & Co. scrapbook, 1889-1898, Ms 62321a. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Despite the preservation issues and lack of depth to the scrapbooks, they are fun to peruse. We have many more than the three shown here. A keyword search for “scrapbook” in our online catalog yields 155 entries (these three will be added at the beginning of March). All are available for viewing. Come visit!

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2 thoughts on “The Paradox of Scrapbooks

  1. Pingback: Scrapbooking! « Covered with papers

  2. Pingback: The March History Carnival: Around The World In Several Blogs | The Cotswold History Blog

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