Saturday, 8 March 2008

Scraps, swaps, oblaten, German die-cuts - a forerunner to modern scrapbooking

One of my earliest and most vivid memories of school is the tiny corner shop where Mr and Mrs Stagg made lunches (a meat pie or sandwich in a brown paper bag), sold sweets in tiny white paper bags (10 for a penny), and, for me, the greatest joy - their large wooden tray of scraps. I can't remember how much they cost but I imagine I must have been able to buy a few tiny ones for a penny, and larger ones were perhaps a penny each. This was 60 years ago and a small child got quite a lot for her penny or threepence. I feel quite certain this where I developed my collecting habit which I've never been able to shake off. This illustration of individual scraps is part of my collection bought from the Stagg's tuck shop so many years ago.

Scraps are a Victorian phenomenon, first produced in the form shown here from about the 1820s in Germany. They go by many names, one of these being Oblaten, and the little illustrations were sometimes pasted onto wafer type cakes which are still made and known as Oblaten. The chromo-lithographed scraps were embossed, die-cut, often in very complicated designs, with small ladders of uncoloured paper between the pictures to hold the sheet together. They were used on Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day cards and became very popular when decoupaged onto screens and room dividers. Scrap books still exist with the most intricate designs devised from the separated scraps.

There are scraps being made today from the original dies and templates of over 100 years ago and I have many of these new versions in my collection along with those of the past 60 years. The new ones don't quite have the charm of the old, though at all times in their production there has been a shameless sentimentality running through many of the designs. However, it's not all flowers, angels and cute children. There are sheets of animals, transport and occupations, even if the girls all seem to be teachers, nurses and mothers while boys can be firemen, policemen and ambulance drivers.

For a long time I searched almost in vain to add to my collection because suddenly stickers became innovative and popular and to my horror I found that many of the scrap designs were being produced as self adhesives. I seemed to be forever asking uncomprehending shop assistants did they have any scraps, and then had to explain what a "scrap" was. The only time I got a glimmer of understanding was when the shop assistant was of my vintage and suddenly remembered buying scraps as a child.

Now there is the wonder of e-bay and there are scraps out there as long as you have the money to buy them. Some are expensive. Some, the very old ones are very, very expensive. But now that I've found them on e-bay, and I can see how freely available they still are, I no longer have the driving need to collect - well, most of the time.

I have them in full sheets mostly, and I haven't yet found a way to display them to my satisfaction. I know, I make books, so this is something that shouldn't be beyond me, and it probably isn't. It's just something I keep putting in the to-do-another-day-basket. I don't want to break up the sheets, though if I did I could make a traditional scrap book, so that's worth thinking about. If anyone has any unusual ideas about what to do with several hundred embossed, die-cut scraps, that I'm quite passionate about, then I'd love to hear from you.


  1. Oh my golly, I had all the angel ones like the one on your blog. I think we all had scraps in those days...and paper dolls!

  2. These are amazing Carol! How wonderful that you have original ones that you've collected. I only know them from the copies you see around nowdays, although I remember dolls you dressed with paper clothes. I still love them...I think I'd be tempted to cut out some of them, if only a few - those three children with the flowers for example would look great as pop-ups, or displayed in 3 dimensions some way.

  3. Lovely scraps Carol. I guess all the sheets are different sizes? I'm thinking along the lines of binding each sheet between two sheets of Japanese tissue but you'd need something on the edge. Another possibility would be to make a book with pockets and windows. I'm guessing you want to keep the pages of scraps whole and loose.

  4. I can certainly understand not wanting to cut them up, and I can understand the conflicting desire to do something with them to show them off. Quite a quandry! How about scanning them into the computer and reprinting copies to cut up and use? Then you could keep the originals archived and still have the use of them for all kinds of projects. You'd also have the added advantages of being able to use favorites more than once and being able to adjust the sizes to fit different compositions.

  5. Lovely Blog! I totally relate to your dilema of 'what to do with these wonderful creations!' ....I too have been brainstorming on a similar collection of Greeting Cards I inherited from my Grandmother & Mother. I have hundreds of beautiful & vintage cards in a large basket-(handmade picnic basket made by my Mom) waiting for the process of placing in a book. Plus my own greeting cards. I've asked many 'yahoo groups' for ideas with not much input.

    I am a Genealogist, so I took from my experience of storing vintage documents & pictures. The only method I can think of in this oblaten project, is to place each one of the sheets into an archival/acid free 'page protector' & then place those pages into 3inch thick, 3 ring binders. Labeling or decorating the covers of the binders so you have a method to locate the images desired. I scan the cards first so I can use the images on my art'ing projects when needed. And have a bonus of all those images stored on a CD.

    Hope this helps, :o)
    Karen Farrer
    Pittsburg Texas USA

  6. What a lovely collection of scraps. I also collected scraps when I was a little girl, but I didn't saved them. What a pitty! If I had, I would have given them all to you =)
    In Swedish we call the scarps "bokmärken".

    You can look the word up and listen to the pronunciation here:

    Kramar (Hugs) Eva

  7. What a beauty of a collection! Oh, what fun we could have with those! I vote for Jenga's suggestion! Thank you for visiting my blog, Carol, happy creating! Dana

  8. Thank you so much for all your comments and suggestions. I'm giving it all serious consideration and will post with my decision/s when and if I can make up my mind.
    I am scanning them gradually, and I do have them stored in folders to protect them. I'm kind of torn between wanting to use them and protecting them at the same time, though I can use the scanned ones.
    Gail, I really like the idea of pockets and windows.

  9. I absolutely adored the scrapbook my grandmother had when I was a tot, filled with these sort of scraps and images carefully cut from ornate greeting cards. Much as I like a lot of the new techniques & products, I still think of that style of book and these scraps as "real" scrapbooking.

    thanks for stopping by & leaving such a lovely comment :)

  10. Hi, Carol. I am one the the (sometimes slack!) DaD people and I've just read Adele's latest letter. So, of course, I had to click your blog link.
    Ah, scraps! I remember coveting a beautiful blue butterfly my friend Carol had when we were 7. She was loath to part with it, but she did want to practise hairdressing. So, in return for a trimmed fringe...I got the butterfly.Had it for years!

    I've bookmarked your site and will come back when I've done some urgent lino work!

  11. I just found this page because it is listed on Meliors favorite spots. I understand why. So many childhood memories are flooding in. Being German and at a more mature age it was every childs favorite past time collecting 'scraps'. What an awful name I must ad. In German they are called LACKBILDER which are translated as shiny pictures. We even had an Old man comming around once in a while to put glitter on our favorites. That was almost as exciting as waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve!.... but I could go on and on ... ! Thank you for giving me back a long lost memory .

    Cheers Jeanine

  12. Scraps! Ah, I have such fond memories of these. The colours, their glossy surfaces, and, of course, the imagery.
    see you, g

  13. fascinating history here! I didn't know any of that...thanks for enlightening me!

  14. Hey, this brought back memories! I remember collecting them as a child, I think we called them Matritzchen, and we pasted them into each other's Poesiealbum (I was at a girls' school) with little poems. The more we liked the other girl the more precious the chosen Matritzchen was, and the most special ones had silver glitter.

  15. We collectors are all alike. Don't wish to spoil these and never get to use them because of that and the next thing that happens is after we pass no one really has the same attitude towards them because they didn't collect them so they finally get used and pass the way of everything in life. I would scan them, use the scans and call it a day & leave the decision to the next one in passing. Hope this helps

  16. Lovely story, Carol! I started collected scraps about five years ago, and as you say there are still many originals that survived the test of time. I have a short article about scraps on my site; anyone interested in this fascinating bit of Victoriana can read it at

  17. Hello
    I am a collector too and I run into your article. Maybe you would like to take a look at this site:
    A lot of images of scrapsheets are shown!


I love to read your comments and I do reply to each. I've turned off word verification and comment moderation for the moment but will see how that goes.