Scrapbook Stories

Scrapbooks, and the stories they tell, rarely follow any kind of prescribed pattern. There’s no map, and as you muddle through, the hints themselves are often murky, at best. Identifying the principals is the easy part — but who were these people, really, and how can we tell? Some scrapbooks are tapestries. Others are minefields. Most are somewhere in between, and the more you familiarize yourself with the stories, the more you want to know — sometimes forging a path that takes you beyond the scrapbook itself.

On this page, we will share some of the stories we’ve uncovered — like the story about Francis “Pop” Johnson, from Waterbury Connecticut, whose big scrapbook went along with him to Europe and on to Asia, where he charted his many wartime adventures.

Or the story about Elinor Moses, a beautiful California debutante whose 1927 engagement was featured in the society pages of the Los Angeles Times. I dug a bit and find the couple later moved to Paris, where they had a daughter, whose own nuptials were reported in the spring of 1956. Elinor Moses died in 1998. When I tracked down Elinor’s daughter, she was in her early seventies and had no idea her mother had ever kept a scrapbook.

Or Lydia Blanchard, the skillful young artist who hailed from Natchitoches, Louisiana, whose scrapbook puts me in touch with her friends and relatives, who are residents of the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase Territory.

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Scrapbooks cover A New Book by Jessica Helfand
Coming this fall from Yale University Press

A gorgeous visual history of American scrapbooks and their evolution over two hundred years. 242 pages, 425 photographs printed in full color.

Combining pictures, words, and a wealth of personal ephemera, scrapbook makers preserve on the pages of their books a moment, a day, or a lifetime. Highly subjective, rich in emotional meaning, the scrapbook is a unique and often quirky form of expression in which a person gathers and arranges meaningful materias to create a personal narrative. This richly illustrated book is the first to focus close attention on the history of American scrapbooks—their origins, their makers, their diverse forms, the reasons for their popularity, and their place in American cultural life.
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Best of this year's gift books

The New York Times June 8, 2008

In this Op-Ed page SUMMERSCAPES, Jessica Helfand reflects on the fascinating "Stunt" Book kept by a young California debutante in the summer of 1920.

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came from a distinguished family in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She kept a detailed scrapbook of her adventures that profiles life in the south during the 1920s.

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lydia blanchard website ->