CONVERSATION

Mandy

issue #23: Slow living

The Diary of Mandy of Paper of the Past, who collects whimsical and historical scrapbooks made by other people between 1840 and 1940. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary, that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here.

Diary of: @paperofthepast

Mandy
@paperofthepast
Mandy
@paperofthepast
Mandy
@paperofthepast
1. You collect scrapbooks made by other people between 1840 and 1940 and share their stories online. Where did this idea come from? Was there a particular material that made you start this collection?

As a teenager, I collected old postcards with interesting handwritten messages. I loved reading through hundreds of postcards looking for voices that stood out across time. Later, I discovered vintage scrapbooks filled with stories and postcards. Sprinkle in a little obsession and a little more time and now I have over 500 scrapbooks and a thriving online community where we all get to enjoy these books together.

Mandy
@paperofthepast
Mandy
@paperofthepast
Mandy
@paperofthepast
2. The idea of dedicating an Issue to the theme of “slow life” came to me while listening to the Podcast on Spotify “Carla” (in Italian), which is about the diary of a 20th century woman, Carla, found by her granddaughter. It tells a slice of history through the life of an ordinary woman. Is there a particular story, among those contained in the over 500 scrapbooks, to which you have become attached? Have you read them all?

One of my favorite scrapbooks holds letters written in the late 1940s by a woman in Luxembourg to a man in the United States. They were connected by events in WWII, and became lifelong pen pals, but may have never met in real life. Bill, the recipient of the letters, glued the envelopes in chronological order onto pages of a scrapbook that he kept for the rest of his life. Most of the letters were written between 1946 and 1951, but tucked into the back of the book are two letters written in the 1970s.

I purchased the book online hoping it was about a romantic love story, but discovered it was more nuanced than that. Instead of a fleeting romance, it represents serendipity and the warmth of friendship in the face of war. The book means so much to me that I traveled to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg with some of her letters and retraced steps of her daily life. I think about those letters at least once a week.

Mandy
@paperofthepast
Mandy
@paperofthepast
Mandy
@paperofthepast
3. One of my greatest passions is visiting old houses, dreaming about buying them. On one of my last visits, I found whole trunks full of letters, abandoned for decades. What emotions does it cause you to browse through these treasures that condense lives and stories into ‘nice format’? What do you think is the value of having an archive?

I’m jealous of your discovery because my childhood dream was to find a time capsule in an abandoned Victorian house. I still have actual dreams about finding scrapbooks in attics and walls, but never have in real life.

These treasures are bittersweet, but I focus on the effort that made them and not on the passage of time. The scrapbooks I collect show off creativity, playfulness, and the unique personalities of the people that made them. They make me feel sad sometimes, but I mostly feel inspired and happy when looking through them.

Mandy
@paperofthepast
Mandy
@paperofthepast
4. With the advent of digital, I wonder if and what physical traces will remain of the present time in the future… We no longer print photos, we no longer write letters, we no longer send postcards, we no longer keep souvenirs in tin boxes… Do you ever think about that?

I worry about that sometimes, but then I’ll go on Instagram and see thousands of people keeping those practices alive. So, the current amount is much lower than previous eras, but the quality is high. Or, to put it another way, there are people fighting back against the loss and their work will be treasured in the future. I hope the pages I share online inspire more scrapbooks and journals too.

Mandy
@paperofthepast
5. Have you ever found a descendant of the original owner of one of the diaries you collect?

I once found an old forum post written by a person looking for a long-lost family scrapbook made in 1901. They had never seen the book in person before, but found evidence that it existed and had been auctioned off 10 years before. The scrapbook had changed hands and countries multiple times during its long life. Surprisingly for me, I had just bought the scrapbook and had it sitting right next to me. I became friends with the person over email and ultimately sold the book to them.

Mandy
@paperofthepast
Mandy
@paperofthepast
Mandy
@paperofthepast
6. At Caleido, we have created a collection of Diaries and Postcards, illustrated by the artist Matteo Giuntini. Do you keep a diary? What do you write in it? How regularly do you write in it?

I love beautiful diaries and postcards like that. I have a spinning postcard rack in my office because I’m obsessed with old and new postcards.

I use a combination of paper and digital formats for my diaries. I have a nice journal that I use for Morning Pages as described in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way (three handwritten pages first thing in the morning). I have a Microsoft Word file that I’ve been typing in since 2012 (I have to laugh at myself because that one is mostly for complaints, worries, and problems). Then, I use a free computer program called Obsidian to track ideas and reading notes throughout the day. I also have a diary-like scrapbook made in an A3 Moleskin Sketchbook that I add too periodically.

Mandy
Mandy
@paperofthepast
Mandy
@paperofthepast
7. I am a serial devourer of your posts… I would spend days trying to read every letter. Is there a physical place to display them? Have you ever thought of having an exhibition? Would you like to visit the “Small Diary Museum” in Arezzo (Italy) with me?

Thank you! The “Small Diary Museum” sounds amazing, I would love to visit one day. I’ve never exhibited my collection, but it sounds like a good idea.

Mandy
@paperofthepast
8. How do you recover these materials? Where do they come from?

Most of my collection comes from eBay. I’ve created over 120 saved searches and check them on the app every day. Sometimes, I’ll find four books at once, and other times, I’ll go six months without buying anything at all.

For every 100 scrapbooks that I see for sale, only a few have the spark I’m looking for. The process is 97% disappointing (when I find nothing or get outbid often) and 3% exciting. I still look every day with patience and wonder what treasure I’ll find next.

Mandy
@paperofthepast
9. In addition to talking about people, the diaries in your collection often talk about costumes, fashion, houses… Are there any finds in this sense that particularly struck you?

Two big surprises were a homemade Halloween mask found in a 1920s scrapbook and a bra found in a 1930s scrapbook. I love seeing things in scrapbooks that I have not seen before.

Mandy
@paperofthepast
Mandy
@paperofthepast
10. What is one object from your home that you would never give up? What is the memory attached to it? Would you send us a photo taken by you?

That’s a tough call because I have many sentimental objects and plenty of historic scrapbooks to choose from. But, if I disqualify scrapbooks made by other people, then I would pick my own scrapbook.  I started it in January of 2020 (not knowing it would become a pandemic scrapbook). It’s my first scrapbook and still has a few blank pages that I add to sometimes. It’s inspired by ideas I’ve seen in 1920s and 1930s books.

Mandy
@paperofthepast

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