Scrapbooks can be great time capsules. Anything goes in scrapbooks—they contain everything from photos and newspaper clippings to more unusual items like seashells and matchbooks. The variety results in plenty of surprises, making scrapbooks interesting to explore.
The open-endedness of a scrapbook can make it a double-edged sword, archivally speaking. On the one hand, design choices—such as the inclusion of an unusual item—can tell us about the scrapbook maker’s personality and adventures. On the other hand, though, the more variety we see in objects on the page, the trickier it is to preserve the scrapbook.
This was the case for scrapbooks in MS-686, Montgomery County Medical Society Alliance Records. Some scrapbooks contained matchbooks. Another contained what appeared to be a seventy-year-old, cellophane-wrapped mint.
Scrapbook makers in the Montgomery County Medical Society Alliance (MCMSA) included souvenir matchbooks with eye-catching covers to help document MCMSA activities. Collecting matchbooks was–and still is–a fairly popular hobby. However, in this case, there was one problem that presented (more than) a bit of a preservation risk: the matchbooks still contained matches.
Friction matches are not exactly something you want hanging around among irreplaceable historical papers. And since the matches did not add any information to the collection (after all, it’s only the decorative matchbook cover that tells us about what the MCMSA was doing) there was no reason for them to be there. In the interest of protecting history, the matches had to go. The matchbooks were housed in ‘magnetic’ photo albums—those albums whose pages are pre-treated with adhesive. As it ages, the adhesive tends to becomes decidedly un-sticky. Thankfully, in this case, the adhesive had failed, and the items were loose and easy to remove. With a microspatula, I gently lifted the matchbooks away from their respective pages and slid them out.
The matchbooks were sealed with a staple, so removing the matches was just a matter of removing the staple with a microspatula. Once the matches were free, they were safely disposed of.
The newly match-free matchbook cover was then refolded and replaced in its proper home in the scrapbook.
This ‘mint’ was a trickster.
It was labelled as a “Favor from [the MCMSA’s] Fashion Show Tea” event in 1951. It looked like a cellophane-wrapped white mint that had crumbled to powder after spending seventy years pressed in a scrapbook.
A mint, like matches, would pose an archival preservation hazard. Its sugary goodness would attract bugs, who could proceed to munch through and damage anything else in the archives. Like the matches, the mint didn’t have intrinsic value, and had to go.
However, it turned out the favor was ‘mint to be’ part of the scrapbook! As I removed the (rusty) staple holding the packet together, it became clear that the white powder was, in fact, not a disintegrated mint. On the favor’s back, folds in the white material were visible. The cellophane was actually filled with a piece of crumpled tissue! Since there was no threat of sugar-induced bug invasions, the favor was able to stay mostly intact (minus the rusty staple—which was itself a preservation concern).
The question remains—was this mint-like object created specifically for the scrapbook? MCMSA kept detailed notes, including committee reports documenting the logistics of the organization’s events. The scrapbooked favor matches descriptions of candy-laden favors given out at other MCMSA functions in the same era, suggesting that this tissue is a stunt double filling in for actual candy. Hooray for preservation-friendly foresight!
Note: MS-686, Montgomery County Medical Society Alliance Records, is currently being processed. The processing, as well as this blog post, are being completed as part of my capstone project for Wright State’s Public History master’s program. Processing was made possible by generous support from the Montgomery County Medical Society Alliance.
Post by Megan O’Connor, graduate student processing archivist