Skip to content

19th Century velvet photo albums.

When I started bookbinding, I didn’t go into it thinking, “I want to work with velvet and padded bindings.” Even today I don’t seek out velvet and padded bindings. But an interesting development in the history of bookbinding is represented by exactly those two things. The 19th Century saw much innovation and stretching of the parameters of traditional binding, and with the proliferation of photographs there was an increase in the demand for albums to house them, and producers of albums seemed bent on outdoing each other in extravagance.

The book arts trend in the past few decades in many ways changed how we look at the book. The book as codex, developed centuries ago has remained essentially unchanged. The trend to see the book as an art object really formed and developed throughout the 20th Century when artists and binders began to see the book as more than a codex, and to view it as an art object. Essentially, a codex is a group of leaves joined in some way on one side and bound with a cover material. Material and decoration are peripheral elements, and don’t change the essential nature of the codex. What makes the book not simply a codex is the alteration of the essential structure, beyond the alteration of material and decoration.

Experimentation with book structures, though, began before the wave of book artists in the 20th Century. It was the 19th Century photo album that received this burst of attention, and though many albums were still some variation of the codex, there were also albums which exhibit experimentation where other structures were incorporated into the object, bringing the album outside the confines of the codex to the book as object.

Below are two examples of newly recovered velvet photo albums which incorporate elements beyond the scope of the codex. The first is a swiveling album on a stand where the album swivels up before it can be opened. It’s awkward, because one has to steady the album to view it, as it wants to flop to whichever side is heavier, but it is a wonderful example of innovation, and of designers thinking beyond the codex to to the book as object. The next is an album/music box.

Scroll down the page to see more pictures of these albums as well as picture featuring the swiveling album before during, and after restoration.

19th Century photo album on a swivel stand with decorative bosses.

Freshly restored photo album. Scroll down for before, after, and process pictures.

music box photo album.

Here is a music box photo album with a clasp that has a spring inside of it to keep it tight on the hook. Newly covered in velveteen and antique decorated printed paper.

music box interior

The musical element is mounted inside the box, and the album pages lift up as if away from the back cover.

damaged velvet photo album with disintegrated velvet

The wear and tear of the years is evident in this photo of the album as it came into the bindery. The velvet had virtually all disintegrated, and the covers were falling apart.

clips on swivel bracket

A view of the swivel bracket onto which the rear board of the album is mounted with clips. Happily all this was present.

victorian album parts

The album is completely disassembled and all the individual parts are repaired.

victorian album parts

The base is cleaned and recovering begins with fresh velvet.

19th century photo album stand

The completed base.

book clasp being attached to velvet album

The lower clasp (pictured) was missing from the original. I happened to have on in my “brass parts” drawer that fit. How did that happen!? It was a little rough but it worked.

19th Century victorian velvet photo album with brass decorations

With the clasp attached, the bosses and fake hinge wings are laid in place and ready to be nailed in. The nails are pushed through the cover and bent over before the endpapers are attached.

swivel clip to hold 19th century victorian photo album to swivel rod

The brass swivel clips are set onto the rod. This one stamped with the patent date of July 15, 1890.

19th Century Victorian swivelling album restoration completed

The Album is attached to the clips, and rests on the angled base.

19th Century Victorian velvet photo album on swivel stand

The album as it would sit if one were looking at the photographs.

Categories: 19th Century, Albums, clasps.

Comment Feed

No Responses (yet)

You must be logged in to post a comment.