Autograph Books - A Record of Past and Present July 02 2022
Autographs are some of collectors' most prized possessions, often scribbled onto photographs, programs, memorabilia, or any odd piece of material. But what is better than one famous signature? An entire collection, of course! Some of the most impressive collections of autographs are stored in autograph books from throughout history.
WHAT IS AN AUTOGRAPH BOOK?
An autograph book is a collection of blank pages with signatures on them, used to compile a number of autographs from multiple people, whether it be a selection of celebrities or a group of friends. Autograph books sometimes also include a drawing or small text that can give the autograph more meaning.
They are also known as Autograph Albums. The term "autograph books" is sometimes incorrectly used for signed books (printed text books, signed by author), which are actually autographed books.
Autograph albums or autograph books are always books with blank pages that one can fill in with signatures by other people.
THE HISTORY OF AUTOGRAPH BOOKS
Autograph books became popular in the early 18th and 19th centuries when European students would collect signatures to commemorate their time at university. Eventually, the signature pages began to include written memories, drawings, or quotes from their friends and fellow students. These books were generally signed during graduation and used as a souvenir of sentimental memories of their time in college.
[CLICKABLE IMAGE] The front cover of an Autograph Album with 15+ signatures of opera singers by the time of the WWI
Once the trend caught on, people would begin to carry autograph books to collect moments from special acquaintances they met while traveling or in their day-to-day life. Sometimes the autograph books would also include addresses so the owner could keep in touch with old friends and new friends alike. Others have autographs from famous people or aristocrats.
While autograph books became mainstream thanks to students, it is thought that they may have originated long before, during the 16th century. The original books may have evolved from medieval tournament books or ancestry records that contained signatures, although it is not known for sure.
AUTOGRAPH BOOKS ARE A COLLECTOR'S DREAM
For some collectors, finding an autograph book can be an absolute gold mine. Occasionally, these books will be filled to the brim with many famous people or artists from similar backgrounds. For example, you may find a collection of singers and composers from the late 19th century, when opera was at its peak in popularity. Or, perhaps you'll get your hands on someone's personal friendship book from the 1900s, with a collection of stories, memories, and poems from their family and friends.
[CLICKABLE IMAGE] A page from an Autograph Album (Belgium, 1890s) with a music quote signed by the French composer Charles René (1863-1935)
Autograph books from celebrities were more common before print photos became more accessible. In the early 1800s, photo prints were costly, and thus blank autograph books were popular when collecting signatures.
However, once print photos became mainstream, people preferred to have printed pictures or programs signed by their favorite artists. These signed prints are more popular among collectors today and can be found for sale online. There are also many autograph books from the 1900s for sale, but they are much less popular.
NOTABLE AUTOGRAPH BOOKS FROM HISTORY
Album Amicorum of Claude de Senarclens: The oldest known autograph book, or album amicorum. He began his collections in 1545 in Wittenberg.
Album Amicorum of Abraham Ortelius: This autograph book of the famous Flemish cartographer and geographer Abraham Ortelius contains a collection of signatures, writings, and coats of arms from his renowned international group of friends. The collection of autographs bound in this remarkable book represents significant members of the academic, cultural, and religious life in the 16th century, with over 130 signatures. It is held in the Pembroke Library, with a digitized copy available for viewing online.
[CLICKABLE IMAGE] A page from an Autograph Album (1874) signed by the star Swedish soprano Christina Nilsson
The Royal Society’s Charter Book: What many people consider to be the most impressive autograph book in the world, this Charter Book contains a section with many of the Charter's Fellows' signatures. The book is made of vellum, or animal skin, which is tougher than standard paper. Notable signatures in the book include that of Charles II, almost all of the British monarchs, and even Charles Darwin.
Philipp Hainhofer’s Das Große Stammbuch: In 2020, the Herzog August Library in Germany purchased an autograph book that belonged to one of its founders, diplomat Philipp Hainhofer for 2.5 million pounds. The album has one of the most incredible collections of autographs of notable European figures from the 17th century. It is a colorful book that provides unrivaled insight into the era's complex political and social world. Some signatures include the king of Denmark and Norway, Cosimo de' Medici, and the Holy Roman Emperors Rudolf II and Christian IV.
DO AUTOGRAPH BOOKS STILLS EXIST TODAY?
While autograph books may have lost their popularity as collector’s items of celebrity signatures, they still remain popular as mementos for various events and occasions. Though you may not realize it, you’ve likely created your own autograph book or contributed to one at some point in your life.
Yearbooks: Typically a collection of photos and memories highlighting a school year and any special events that took place. They usually include a picture of all the students, teachers, and staff that attended or worked at a school for that year. Students will collect signatures and other written mementos from their friends and classmates at the end of the year before taking off for summer vacation.
Guestbooks: You can find guestbooks in various situations, with the most popular being at weddings. Guests will write a note for the newlyweds, perhaps with a special memory or advice for a happy marriage, along with their signature. You can also find guestbooks at other parties, hotels, or famous landmarks.
Collectible guestbooks from now gone hotels, restaurants and other venues are in the market and seen from time to time in auctions and autograph dealers. And sometimes they reach high prices.
Disney Autograph Books: These unique autograph books are a special memory for children who visit one of the Disney theme parks. One fun activity kids like to do while there is collect the autographs from the Disney characters in the park, like Mickey Mouse or Cinderella. Parents often purchase or create Disney autograph books for their kids to keep these signatures along with a photo with the characters.
Friendship Books: Similar to yearbooks, a friendship book is a collection of autographs, special memories, inside jokes, or sweet quotes from friends. There are many friendship books for sale online, which sometimes include fill-in-the-blanks or topics to create a lovely collection of friends' signatures. These can be a special present when a friend is sick or moving away.
THE EVOLUTION OF AUTOGRAPH BOOKS
Autograph books have evolved over the centuries, from genealogical tables to collections of classmates to celebrity autographs to Disney characters. You can find samples of these books in world-class libraries, antique shops, and children's bedrooms alike. While technology may be changing the way we see physical signatures, these historical books will always remain as a snapshot of what people and life were like at that time.
From books that were much more general and collected signatures, text and even music notes from people the owner met in person, to today autograph books, more specific for occasions and events, autograph books have made a very long journey through centuries and found a way to survive among us.
[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Vienna Staatsoper Singers 1940s Autograph Album
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