Originally posted on Collectors Weekly.
Among quaint fads of the 19th century, like riding bicycles or playing board games, one sticks out like a sore thumb—the Victorian-era obsession with seaweed. That’s right: Affluent Victorians often spent hours painstakingly collecting, drying, and mounting these underwater plants into decorative scrapbooks. Why seaweed?
In Western Europe and the Americas, the 18th and 19th centuries were a time of major cultural upheaval, as industrialization reshaped nearly every aspect of daily life. New national holidays and improved labor laws gave working people more time off, which they could spend at home or enjoy by the seashore, often a quick train ride away. At the same time, influential naturalists like John James Audubon and Charles Darwin helped develop a popular interest in science and nature. Birdwatching boomed; taxidermied creatures filled middle-class homes; fur and feathers dominated fashion trends.
The shift to wage labor also helped spread the concept of leisure time, when people could explore their personal interests and hobbies. As the Victorian parlor or “withdrawing room” became the locus of private life, the chaotic outside world was ordered and beautified through home furnishings and decorative collections. Finally, improvements in printing technology created an explosion of paper ephemera, like the die-cut imagery explicitly designed for album-making. A generation of scrapbookers…
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