Scrapbooking in 19th Century America

Thomas Jefferson maintained a scrapbook during retirement. Called “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” the scrapbook contained cutout passages from the Bibles of multiple languages including French and English. The 86-page scrapbook is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

This just goes to show that even famous people are fond of making scrapbooks. After all, strip them of their grandest achievements and they’re just like any regular member society. However, the so-called “Jefferson’s Bible” isn’t what you would think a scrapbook should be because in the old days, scrapbooks were hardly filled with photos.

This is because photography didn’t arrive until 1839 when Louis Daguerre pioneered the proper technology for it. Jefferson had his scrapbook around the 1920s, so instead of photos, scrapbook enthusiasts like Jefferson would fill the pages with anything they deem worth keeping. These include cutouts of poems, passages, clippings, snippets, and other mementos.

With the introduction of photography, the contents of the typical scrapbook diversified along with the scrapbook features. In 1872, Mark Twain marketed his famous adhesive scrapbook, which used a kind of adhesive in its pages. Not only did he make $50,000 (more than $1.2 million in today’s dollars), he invented a scrapbook that revolutionized the art of scrapbooking from that day on.


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