The Origins of Victorian-Era Scraps & Scrapbooking

Our founder, Susan Davis, is a perennial collector of anything old, intriguing, and beautiful. So, it's not surprising that her button-hunting adventures often lead to the collection of unexpected treasures. These remarkable finds sometimes make it into our Designer Collection releases in handmade products like textile handbags and vintage porcelain plates featuring transfers of charming Victorian-era scraps.

Victorian-era scraps are beguiling images printed on small pieces of paper, much like in the books of valentines many of us loved and shared with our classmates as children. They rose in popularity in Europe and America after the invention of lithography in 1798 by German playwright Alois Senefelder, who invented the process to cheaply print his plays.

Victorian Era Scraps & Scrapbooking - Buttonology Blog

Lithography facilitated affordable mass reproductions of art, prints works, and images. A lithograph is made using a greasy pencil to draw an image on a flat metal plate. The plate is then treated with a weak acid that makes the parts of the surface not protected by the grease hydrophilic, meaning water-attracting. The final step is to apply an oil-based ink to the original drawing and transfer it onto paper. This traditional process is still used for fine art printing.

In the early 19th-century, color was applied to lithographs by hand, one color at a time. By the 1820s, the scraps were becoming more elaborate. They were sometimes embossed, a process by which a die was stamped into the reverse side of the paper, giving the front a raised three-dimensional appearance. 

Victorian Era Scraps & Scrapbooking - Buttonology Blog

In 1837, during the first year of Queen Victoria's reign, chromolithography was invented. This process enabled printers to add a multitude of colors to mass-produced scraps. Further printing advancements soon led to the production of ready-made' scraps with pre-cut brightly colored and embossed images sold in sheets. The images were connected by small paper strips to keep them in place. The laborious task of cutting out small pictures was thus removed, and scrap sales soared.

Victorian Era Scraps & Scrapbooking - Buttonology Blog

Children played with scrap paper dolls dressing them up in cut-out outfits. Women shared scraps on greeting and calling cards and used them for Christmas decorations. Many started pasting their scrap collections into albums and decorating the pages with, magazine pictures, personal notes, hand-drawn sketches, small watercolors, lines of poetry, or dedications from friends and relatives. Hence, making scrapbooks became a popular way of preserving memories.

Not surprisingly, scraps were also used to create the most unashamedly romantic Victorian-era Valentines. These elaborate cards were composed of materials like lace, embossed gold foil, ribbons, fresh flowers, and feathers but the scraps were the main focal point.

Victorian Era Scraps & Scrapbooking - Buttonology Blog

The Victorians delighted in romanticism and sentimentality. Sought-after subjects for scraps included angelic-looking children, fashionably dressed ladies, birds, butterflies, pets, angels, and fans. Also popular were military and naval themes and scraps depicting Victorian pastimes such as the circus and outings to the seaside.

The original Victorian scraps are now vivid emblems of their era's decorative and sentimental preoccupations with romance and frivolity. We hope you find them as delightful as we do. 

Read more about antique and vintage buttons and glass, their history, and our collection on our Buttonology Blog.