READING AND RE-READING:
THE SCRAPBOOKS OF GIRLS
GROWING INTO WOMEN, 1900–1930
Scrapbooks inhabit an uneasy place in the world of print. Unique artifacts created most often from mass-produced texts and images, they find no comfortable resting place in the private home, the shelves of libraries, or the boxes of archives. They are too humble to be collage (and thus are not afforded the status of art); too revealing to rest “beside the family Bible on the parlor table”1 (and thus, are not regularly saved as a family document); and too concealing to be the tool of a researcher (and thus not high up on the conservation priorities of libraries and archives). They are at once too precious, too common, too unfinished, too much a world unto themselves. They are handicraft objects between two covers, both ephemeral and long remembered.
Yet, for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, generations of readers made such books. Walter Benjamin defined them as the “seeds of a collection of children's books which is growing steadily even today though no longer in my garden.” Here he spoke of his mother's albums with “stick-in pictures” (probably the colorful products of chromolithography). Benjamin himself enjoyed and learned from her compilations. Later in life, as he unpacked his library, he came to these albums and recognized them as key remnants of her life and his own. They formed the beginning of his collecting habits, the first of his library, these books that do not, he wrote, “strictly speaking belong in a book case at all.” From them, he had grown to love reading and collecting and to understand the link between both activities.2