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.
The Sunday Papers: 13
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