scrapbooks

Several weeks ago, I received a call from a young lady who indicated that she regularly reads my column. I consider her to be a young lady even though she indicated that she is around my age.

Given my back in the day orientation, all females, unless proven otherwise, are young ladies.

She told me that she is fond of the trips that she takes with me in my columns, which bring forth many memories of her past. She identified some of her favorite columns — some she has been cutting out and saving for years. She even recalled the ease in cutting out my article since it went from one column, continued on a second page, to several columns on one page as has been the case in recent years.

Considering the lessons that many of my columns have for our young people, she saves them and encourages her children to read them. After a rather extended conversation, I learned that she has been saving my columns in something that I recall from the past but had not heard or given much thought to for years. Yet I walk by them whenever I am in my living room as they have been in the same place since we moved into our home back in 1971.

So, you must have had a scrapbook, and if you look long enough, you probably have an old scrapbook somewhere in your home today just like many others had, back in the day.

I am certain that those of you who have been around for a few decades recall those unexpected visits by family or friends to your home. These visits often involved much time being spent becoming reacquainted with those we had not seen for years. A good portion of such visits used to involve sitting around the dining room table or perhaps sitting in the living room going through scrapbooks, or what were also called photo albums.

It was a “big thing” to have photographs, professionally taken in a studio, or photographs taken with a Brownie Hawkeye camera placed in a scrapbook. You must recall how families organized their photographs based on some type of categories. Photographs of children generally appeared based on age, from infancy through the early years or maybe photos of the elementary school years. Photographs of family members were often of holiday celebrations. Of course, high school graduations or college graduations were very special and claimed special recognition in scrapbooks or photo albums.

Many people, even if the event occurred more than 50 years ago, have a special album or two of their wedding. These scrapbooks or photo albums have proven to be priceless as they represented the only source for some young family members to learn the identity of their loved ones, as they appeared, back in the day.

Many of us use the term scrapbook interchangeable with photo album. My research indicates that this is correct as early scrapbooks contained photographs as well as handwritten poems, notes left by friends, locks of hair, sketches and much more. Going back to the 15th century, we found the term “commonplace books” in England that was a way to compile information such as recipes, letters, poems and more. What was found in commonplace books is more in keeping with what has been found in scrapbooks over the years. Thus, scrapbooks go back many centuries.

Some of you had and may still have scrapbooks that contain mementos of the past. In scrapbooks, we would place newspaper articles, tickets from a special event, poems, greeting cards denoting a special time of one’s life, a movie program, school report card, the sales receipt for the first new automobile, almost anything considered a keepsake from the past.

A co-worker told me that her grandmother’s scrapbook contains many obituaries — yes, obituaries. Someone else told me that she keeps funeral programs in a scrapbook. While scrapbooks were popular, probably the first one that I owned as a child is technically a scrapbook but called by a different name when I was in school. I cannot imagine that if you grew up in the 1950s or ‘60s, you did not have a “friendship album” or an autograph album.

While I graduated from Sulzberger Junior High School in 1954, I still have my autograph book on a shelf in my basement. If your graduation from junior high school was well after 1954, that makes you unfamiliar with an autograph book. These books were constructed on the order of a scrapbook but were usually small — about 5 x 7 inches. Students, classmates, friends, family members and neighbors would write congratulatory messages in your autograph album but would go a step further by securing coins, with Scotch tape on the page where they wrote their words of encouragement or congratulation.

Placing money in an autograph album was expected if you wrote congratulatory words, back in the day.

In my living room, on a shelf under the coffee table are several albums of photographs going back over the years. Some of my family photographs are in smaller photo albums that are in other locations. If you recall the days of the family photo albums, you may recall how they were neatly organized up to a certain point. But, you know what happened: labeling photographs and organizing them by names, events or years became overwhelming as we got older until many people abandoned this effort. Thus, many photographs ended up in boxes and bags.

Today some stores even sell photo boxes to be used exclusively for organizing photos. As we are entering the Christmas season, you may have memories of your Christmas tree replacing your photo album, if but for a few weeks, as photographs were once hung on Christmas trees along with ornaments.

One of my sisters, despite the digital world that has negatively impacted the practice of maintaining photo albums, has maintained her photographs in albums of all sizes. She took after my mother and meticulously organized her albums, numbered and cross referenced the contents against something akin to a spread sheet. This level of organization enabled her to easily locate specific photographs when needed.

Several of her photographs are in large, framed collages that give a warm and fuzzy feeling to those viewing that knew them. How well I recall family members maintaining a level of organization with photographs.

If you are familiar with the management of photographs, back then, you must recall LePage’s Gripspreader Mucilage, the brown, school glue with the reddish rubber top. Did you help with spreading this glue on the back of photographs to secure them in the photo album? Our parents identified those in the photographs by writing in the white space at the bottom of the photograph. Yes, we did write on the back of the photograph but this had no utility when gluing the photo in an album.

The introduction of mounting corners held photographs in place very neatly and accommodated the practice of writing on the back as the photographs could be easily removed to identify names, events and years. While I do not recall when mounting corners were introduced, I do remember that they became popular when I was a teenager as I assisted my mother in the organization of her scrapbook or photo album with mounting corners. I also recall the introduction of albums with clear plastic pages that secured photographs.

What we did not know, back then, was that the plastic covering damaged photographs as these coverings were not acid free. The maintenance of scrapbooks or photo albums, if you prefer, was a family event, back in the day.

If you think of the past in the same manner as I do, you must reflect on other things that were crucial to the photo albums. The introduction of cameras to generate photos and create a need for scrapbooks to include photographs is just one of those crucial items. This did not impact those reading this column today as cameras were introduced long before our lifetimes.

Going to the local drugstore to have your film developed was another service you may remember. What did you do with the packet of negatives that came in the envelope with your pictures? Do you recall the practice of having photos enlarged? Do you recall when color film was introduced?

As exciting as many of us were at the onset of color film, there was something remarkable about the old black-and-white photos and the Sepia tone photos that many of us still have in our albums or scrapbooks today.

We certainly cannot neglect the introduction of the magical Polaroid pictures. How amazing was it to have photos immediately available to add to your scrapbook? If you did not have a Polaroid camera, perhaps you had your own darkroom for developing film at home, back in the day.

Scrapbooks have a long history as “scrapbooking” has been around for more than 150 years. I have read that Thomas Jefferson was among the first famous American scrapbookers. His scrapbooks were filled with newspaper clippings of his presidency.

Prior to writing this column, I had no knowledge of the popularity today in scrapbooks. I did not know that in 1990, scrapbooking exploded in popularity and became one of the fastest growing hobbies in America. I just assumed that technology had negatively affected interest in scrapbooks.

The internet, however, assisted in spreading its popularity and was picked up at craft shows, book stores and in books; all of which enabled scrapbooks to grow and flourish today. In addition, throughout the United States, there are organized scrapbook clubs that hold seminars and workshops for members throughout the year.

There are still those that want to hold on to and display personal items, in particular, photographs; they wish to share these memories with others in ways other than through their cell phone or iPad. They wish to have the personal satisfaction of holding and touching those special memories in the way folks did with family and friends, back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19146.

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