Does your ancestor’s memory album need first aid—or triage—
to safeguard its appearance and structural integrity? Follow
our prescription to care for your family keepsake.
Mark Twain did it. So did singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie. Was your ancestor also one of the many Americans who engaged in the popular 19th- and 20th-century pastime of scrapbooking?
If so, you have a treasure. A scrapbook is often a window into the mind of its owner, depicting, for example, a dry wit, a love of nature, or an interest in people or events that you might not discover any other way. In addition to genealogical information, a scrapbook can show you places your ancestor visited, foods she enjoyed and people she met along the way.
Matchbooks, dance cards, paper napkins, candy, gum, food wrappers, bugs, pressed leaves, dried corsages, ribbon, buttons, license plates, pins, military medals—you name it, and it’s been found in an old scrapbook. All those bits and pieces that make a scrapbook so wonderful are exactly what make preserving the book so difficult. Unlike a photo album that calls for the specific care of photographs and paper pages, a scrapbook’s contents may need special individual attention. To make matters more difficult, old scrapbooks were usually constructed from inexpensive materials such as acidic paper and cardboard, which are poor choices for longevity.
Fortunately, the best way to care for your family’s vintage scrapbook is both simple and fairly inexpensive. You can preserve and enjoy your family treasure with this five-step treatment regimen.
1. Examine the scrapbook’s “bones.”
Take a good look at your heirloom scrapbook. The covers probably are made of paper-coated embossed cardboard with or without a printed title. Some scrapbook covers are made of carved wood or tooled leather. Others began life as ledger books, notebooks or journals and were recycled into scrapbooks. All of these materials are highly acidic and will discolor and become brittle over time.