Scrapbooks – Fragile Time Capsules

This exhibit showcases a selection of 20th Century scrapbooks held at the City of Coquitlam Archives. These wonderful records are valued for the perspectives they offer on their particular themes and for the specific histories they document. Scrapbooks are a reflection of their time and provide insight into the period they depict, which may be very different from today.

Preserving these special records poses some interesting challenges to archivists. Scrapbooks are fragile by nature and become increasingly fragile as they age. This exhibit discusses the preservation concerns we have for the various scrapbooks in our care and outlines measures that can be taken to preserve them over time.

It might get you thinking about how you can preserve your own scrapbooks at home. We’ll pass along some tips at the end of the exhibit and provide some helpful links. View our Fact Sheet for tips on how to preserve your own scrapbooks at home. 

Books of Memories

Scrapbooks contain a personally selected collection of memorabilia of one or many formats attached to the pages of the book. This memorabilia can include photographs, clipped news articles or images, stickers, ticket stubs, ribbons, or even pressed flowers.

Scrapbooks are often highly personal. They might document the personal fandom of a celebrity or musical group or a special event like a wedding or vacation. The audience is typically the compiler, but scrapbooks may also be intended for family and friends.

Sometimes scrapbooks function as a quasi-archive of a community group. Clubs and societies often document the events and achievements of their members and sports teams often document the events of their seasons.

Caring for Scrapbooks

Caring for scrapbooks in archives requires a careful balancing act. On the one hand, we want to preserve the creator’s intentions and preserve the scrapbook as it was constructed. But we have to balance this with the need to preserve the individual items contained in the scrapbook because they are very susceptible to damage.

Modern paper is made of wood pulp, an acidic material which degrades over time, particularly when stored in certain conditions. With exposure to light and air, paper becomes yellow. It may warp when exposed to high humidity or crumble if it is stored somewhere too dry. Scrapbook pages and covers can become brittle through age and handling, and the glues and tapes used to stick memorabilia to the pages can dry out and yellow over time, causing items to loosen and fall from their places.

Adhesives can also stain and damage the items that they have fixed in place.  Magnetic scrapbooks, a popular type of scrapbook in the mid-20th century, are particularly problematic because their pages contain a very acidic type of adhesive that causes photographs to fade. Photos are often difficult to remove from these pages because the adhesive becomes stickier with time.

At the City of Coquitlam Archives, we have a number of scrapbooks from various time periods that all require specialized treatment to ensure they are preserved over the long term. Below you will find a description of a few of our scrapbooks, the preservation concerns we have, and some of the ways we are mitigating the issues.

Coquitlam Dam Scrapbook

This scrapbook is a jewel in our collection. It contains photographs showing the construction of the second phase of the Coquitlam Dam in 1912 (the first phase was in 1905). The scrapbook was donated to us by a donor in the eastern United States, who knew only that the album was among her Grandmother’s possessions, which had been stored in an Aunt’s attic since 1945. She was unsure how the scrapbook had made its way across the continent and ended up in the United States. We have been working to identify the creator, but so far she remains a mystery.

The scrapbook contains a mix of photographs from a personal camera and some prints that we have discovered to be available in other archives in Vancouver. The photograph of the jumping salmon also appears in the BC Hydro Archives’ Buntzen Scrapbook, for example. Others are among the Vancouver Public Libraries Coquitlam Dam collection.

It is not surprising that photographs of the dam’s construction have ended up in a number of different locations. The construction of the dam involved a variety of organizations including the Vancouver Power Company, the British Columbia Electric Railway Company, and the Federal Government.

Scrapbooks are generally created for a small audience - the creator and a small circle known to them. The creator of this scrapbook apparently did not anticipate a future where it would be out of the hands of family or close friends, as the photos are labelled (in handwriting that is occasionally hard to read) with a list of those depicted, including ‘me’.

Surnames prominently mentioned in the scrapbook include Crawley and Enderby, and notable people such as ‘Mr. Petersen’, who was foreman of the dam project, and ‘Mr Stronach’, the Engineer. Despite extensive research, we have not yet established who “me” is, although the donor has reason to believe it might be someone with connections to the surname ‘Randall’.

The pages of this scrapbook are holding up relatively well considering their age, however, the photographs are showing signs of silver mirroring. This is a result of exposure to air and humidity that causes the photographs to appear reflective with a blue-ish tint.

To keep this 100-year-old item in good condition, we have interleaved the pages with archival tissue to protect the photographs adhered to the pages. We are storing the scrapbook in an archival box in a cool, dry place to prevent further degradation associated with high humidity levels. To make sure that we preserve the creator’s original intentions, we have digitized the pages and made them available through our online search portal.

 

Coquitlam Figure-Skating Club Scrapbook

This scrapbook was donated by the Coquitlam Skating Club, a Coquitlam institution since 1968.

The title page bears the neatly written inscription: “this book was conceived in the 1968-69 season, mainly to look after skaters photos left behind with the club unclaimed.” The carefully-arranged contents of this scrapbook cover the time period 1968 to 1980 and chart the growth and rising profile of the club.

Portraits of figure-skaters are interspersed with programmes, pennants, and group photos from the Ice Carnival, which was held annually in the Spring. These carnivals reportedly drew big crowds. Around 3,000 fans attended the 1971 event at the Coquitlam Sports Centre.

The scrapbook includes many group portraits of young skaters dressed for these carnivals, which had themes like “English Country Garden” and “Those were the Days.” Interspersed among the photographs are news articles that credit the skaters’ mothers with sewing the many creative costumes such as mermaids, tulips, fossils, lions, and candy canes.

This scrapbook poses less concern in terms of preservation because the photographs are attached using photo corners as opposed to tape or glue. Unfortunately, newsprint is notoriously hard to preserve and will continue to yellow over time. We have digitized the scrapbook to ensure that the original presentation is preserved, showing photographs and news clippings as they were arranged. The digital copy is available at the following link, which can also be found in our online search portal.

 

Coquitlam Satellites Scrapbook 

This scrapbook was donated by Jim Hinds, who served as the Manager of the Coquitlam Satellites Women’s Hockey Team between 1971 and 1982.

The album contains photographs, newspaper articles, stickers, pennants and patches. The newspaper articles contain coverage of the various games and some were written by Hinds himself, reporting on the results of the games.

The scrapbook also shows the broader context of women’s hockey in this era. It includes an article about the Vancouver Thunderettes’ Japanese Tour in 1978 and another that appears to be part of an ongoing discussion about mixed-gender teams.

The Coquitlam Satellites scrapbook is an example of a magnetic photo album, which was a popular form in the 1970s and 1980s. The photographs in this album show signs of fading and the orange cast typical to prints kept in these albums. Removing photographs is not always an option. Prints are often firmly stuck to the page and we would risk damaging them if we attempted to remove them. In this case, the best choice for preservation is storage of the item in a light proof box, in stable and dry storage conditions. We have also digitized the album to avoid unnecessary handling and exposure to light.


Mountain View School Scrapbook

This scrapbook was prepared to document the Golden Homecoming at Mountain View School in Burquitlam. No creator is indicated, but a leaflet contained in the scrapbook appeals for donations of memorabilia and personal reminiscences, suggesting that this was probably put together by someone connected to the Mountain View Homecoming Committee.

The scrapbook contains news clippings, photographs of former students and teachers, the event program, and a number of cards and postcards. It also contains typed reminiscences from former students.

The cover of the scrapbook is slightly bowed, suggesting that it may have been stored standing upright on a shelf for a long time. Over time, the weight of the contents can cause a cover to buckle.

The pages themselves have yellowed, particularly around the edges where they have been exposed to air and light. The adhesives used to apply the contents to the pages have dried and fallen off, or have been removed, leaving brown stains on the page.

Conservation work was performed on this scrapbook by the Port Moody Heritage Society prior to its donation to the Coquitlam Public Library, which then transferred it to the City of Coquitlam Archives when it was founded in 2013. The loose contents have been placed in acid-free paper envelopes. This is to ensure that the items won’t be lost or affected further by the acidity of the paper or adhesive, or by any environmental changes such as fluctuating light, temperature or humidity. This is a viable approach to preservation if the items can be safely removed from the paper. The downside to this method is that the original presentation of the scrapbook is lost. This can be mitigated by photocopying each page or digitizing the pages of the scrapbook before removing the contents.


Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire Centennial Scrapbook

The Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire (IODE) was a group founded in Montreal in 1900 by Margaret Polson Murray, with the purpose of promoting patriotism, loyalty and service to others. It soon had chapters all throughout what was then the British Empire. The Centennial Chapter was established in Harbour Chines in 1958.

IODE expressed their values through charitable work. This included providing volunteer aid to local organizations. They often fundraised through events, and this scrapbook contains invitations to and photos of events such as coffee parties and event programs for fundraising variety shows for School District No. 43. It also contains a copy of the charter along with newspaper clippings.

This seems to have been a scrapbook meant to preserve the history and memory of the organization. The pages have a thick binding and some flair is shown in the collaging of these pages. Newspaper clippings are neatly bordered with ruled felt-tip pen and the creator has glued in decorative flourishes such as the images of candelabra. A piece of correspondence is also taped into the spine between the pages shown below.

The pages are interleaved with archival tissue, to prevent the abrasion which might otherwise be caused by contents on the opposing pages coming into contact with one another. 


Scrapbook Care at Home

Check out our tips below or on our fact sheet if you have scrapbooks or photo albums at home and want to ensure they are cared for and kept for future generations.

Top Tips

  • Keep scrapbooks in a dark, cool and dry place in your home.
  • Store your scrapbooks flat and don’t stack too much on top of them. Weight can compress and damage contents.
  • Use acid-free paper and avoid magnetic albums.
  • Use photo corners whenever possible. Avoid using tapes and glues.
  • Think about who might see the scrapbook in the future and include names, dates, and other relevant details. The Archivists of the future will thank you!

Some helpful links