Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sharing a treasured Victorian scrapbook
in the Taft Museum of Art's holiday exhibit

Guess what? A selection of antique holiday cards and postcards from my collection are on exhibit in the Taft Museum of Art's annual Antique Christmas exhibition. As much as I love, love, love the cards, what I'm really excited about is the inclusion of my great, great Aunt Phebe's scrapbook from 1881.

A few years ago, my father made the mistake of sharing it with me. It was full of so many beautiful, vibrant Victorian cards - by noted publishers such as Louis Prang and Raphael Tuck - that I had to ask if I could borrow it to scan into my digital library. He hemmed and hawed and, finally, let it out of his grasp. My father's family wasn't terrific at saving paper, which is why the scrapbook is so special both to him - and me.

He's in South Jersey. I'm in Cincinnati. I figured that once the book was out of sight, it would be out of mind. Wrong.  Each time I'm back home, he asks when I'm going to return it; each time I answer "never." It's become kind of a joke between us. My latest excuse for keeping it? Why, it's inclusion in the Taft exhibition, of course.

The album contains Christmas greetings for the most part, with a few Easter cards and a smattering of other ephemera. The latter includes two small envelopes with locks of hair tucked inside them, a menu from the Third Triennial Dinner in 1884 of alumni of the Hampton N&A Institute, calling cards and other odds and ends. Phebe wrote the names of who the cards were from beneath many of them after gluing them onto the pages. I don't  know much about Phebe; neither does my father. But I suspect the family had money back then - sigh - and that if she had this scrapbook, she must've had others.

I'm thrilled to share, especially in this exhibit, because the show is one of my favorites. I tend to hit it 3 or so times, often with family and friends in tow. I'm endlessly fascinated by the extravagant and frequently odd ornaments, toys, decorations and other collectibles. The selections change each year; a smart tactic for luring people back. It's also a savvy way to show off the house and its first-rate collection since visitors must roam from room to room to view the entire exhibit. My case is in the dining room.

Since just one page of Phebe's scrapbook is open, I thought I'd share more of it here. Yes, I finally scanned it into my library. So, once the exhibit ends, I'll have to cook up a new excuse for keeping it!


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