Imagine, it is your birthday, in 1908 and you have been given a wonderful gift. It is an autograph book, but not just any autograph book. It records the 'Ghosts' of your friends, turning their signatures into weird and wonderful creations. Some look like insects, some like monsters, some like skeletons. It's a fun, different way to keep a record of people you meet or of your friends. You will carry it with you for many years, catching the Ghosts of your Friends!
When I took this book to school, the kids were fascinated by the idea of creating a fun artwork from their own names. They were also intrigued by the idea of keeping an autograph book. Most of the children had not seen an autograph book and certainly hadn't thought of keeping one themselves, although many of the children do have autographs from favourite 'celebrities'. Today, scrapbooks seem to be the favourite way to record memories and people, the autograph book has fallen by the wayside. Perhaps the unusual, fun type of autograph kept in this autograph book might inspire a new generation!
The first autograph books began to appear in Europe in the early 1500's when University students would take their Bibles to be signed by instructors and students. As time went by, Bibles began to be published with blank pages specially for autographs and then the autographs themselves evolved to include little verses and sketches. Later still, in the mid 16th century the publishers began to offer small, decorative books full of blank pages for autographs. The earliest true autograph books come from Germany and were called album amicorum (book of friends) and stammbuch (friendship book). The earliest example known comes from about 1545 and belonged to Claude de Senarclens. By the end of the 1500's these books were common in Germany among students and scholars. Academics even kept theirs for many years as a record of other academics they had come into contact with. These then served as a type of credential for academics - almost like our modern lists of contacts!
For many years the popularity of autograph books was confined mainly to Central Europe and in the 17th century they began to fall out of use. Over a century later though, there was a resurgence of popularity with students and middle class women. German immigrants who moved to America also took the tradition with them and they were very popular there, although by the late 1800's yearbooks were taking over. If you would like to learn more about the history of the Autograph Book, click here or here.
The book 'The Ghosts of My Friends' is a later autograph book, given to Irvine Graham in 1908. Irvine clearly used the book for many years and most of the pages are full. The first autographs appear to have been written in 1909, but they continued to be added for many years, right through until 1931! Autograph books were treasured and loved by their owners, and are a wonderful momento of friends and people you meet. Roy will show you how to make your own signature 'Ghosts' next time he creates!