Explore a Beautiful Victorian Album of Seaweeds
By Bess Lovejoy
The Victorians had a passion for admiring stylized versions of the natural world from within the comfort of their own homes. Alongside taxidermy, arrangements of shells and fossils, preserved birds and flowers beneath domes, and hair art, an upper-class Victorian home might have sported an album or two of pressed flowers and, perhaps, seaweeds.
While we may not think of seaweed as particularly lovely today, Victorians used their bright reds and greens and lacy shapes to create pretty designs or semi-realistic compositions. The Public Domain Review recently spotlighted one such album now held in the Brooklyn Museum’s Special Collections department, which has been digitized for online viewing.
The leatherbound album, which features algae and seaweeds pasted on construction paper and framed by doilies, was created by one Eliza A. Jordson of Brooklyn around 1848. It was presented as a token of esteem to Augustus Graham, a member of the board of directors of the Brooklyn Apprentice’s Library, which eventually evolved into the Brooklyn Museum. The images are a feat of delicacy, using seaweed to create tiny houses and to spell out Graham’s name as well as the title of the book.
As Allison Meier noted when writing about the album for Atlas Obscura in 2014, the album is “definitely not a scientific work, but instead a social one.” The specimens aren’t mounted with scientific precision and contain no labels, although the album does include a poem on the “flowers of the sea,” which seems to have been a feature of other seaweed albums, according to the Public Domain Review.
Other surviving examples of seaweed albums exist: As Meier notes, Harvard holds one created by a Mary Robinson, probably around Martha’s Vineyard, circa 1885. An online exhibit devoted to the prints from that book contains an explanation of the scrapbooking process, which involved submerging both the seaweed and mounting paper in saltwater at the same time, bringing them to the surface with the seaweed on top, and arranging the specimen with a needle to bring out its details.
All images via Brooklyn Museum Libraries, Special Collections.