An autograph book is a book for collecting the autographs of others (duh!). Traditionally they were exchanged among friends, colleagues, and classmates to fill with poems, drawings, personal messages, small pieces of verse, and other mementos.

The tradition started among (male) university students in the German and Dutch linguistic regions, around the time of the Reformation (16th century), and spread. They were called Stammbuch, Album Amicorum or Freundschaftsalbum at the time.

At first, only the upper classes and students had one, but by the 19th century, they were popular among the upper and middle class, men as well as women.

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A friend´s entry in Ludwig von Beethoven´s Stammbuch, ca. 1792

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Poesiealbum, ca.1790s

German immigrants transported the tradition to American culture in the late 18th century, where their popularity peaked around the time of the Civil War. Thereafter the use of autograph books declined sharply in both cultures as they were replaced by school yearbooks,though they remained a lingering fad among young women for some time.

Autograph books in their classic form eventually disappeared from the landscape of American culture, but their usage endures among German schoolgirls, who know them as poesiealben. (Wikipedia).

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Poesiealbum (1938)

You can look at some vintage German poesiealben here.

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Laura Ingalls´ calling cards

Calling cards were popular during the Victorian era and some preferred to paste their cards onto the pages of albums and then inscribe their message. This was also a time when it was all the rage to share a lock of hair with a special friend or a loved one.

Autograph Album dated 1861 to 1868, with hair mementos, many woven or braided. Plus autographs and poems, pressed flowers, needlework, ribbons, etc. Cardboard covers with lined pages. Measures 7.75 x 6.5 inches. (Source)

Some friends would share their lock by fastening it to an album page along with a verse. Locks of hair from family and friends were also cherished and used to make jewelry such as earrings and bracelets, and many were encased in lockets for remembrance.

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Autograph book, ca. 1914

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Poesiealbum, ca.1920

Traditionally, in German poesiealben, the messages are lavishly decorated with scraps or little drawings, whereas autograph books often only contain the written message, but there are no strict rules or distinctions.

In Little Town on the Prairie (set in 1881), Laura (aged 14) and her sister Carrie (aged 11) receive autograph books as presents from their parents:

In Laura’s package was a beautiful small book, too. It was thin, and wider that it was tall. On its red cover, embrossed in gold, were the words, Autograph Album. The pages, of different soft colors, were blank. Carrie had another exactly like it, except that the cover of hers was blue and gold.

“I found that autograph albums are all the fashion nowadays,” said Ma. “All the most fashionalbe girls in Vinton have them.”

“What are they, exactly?” Laura asked.

“You ask a friend to write a verse on one of the blank pages and sign her name to it,” Ma explained. “If she has an autograph album, you do the same for her, and you keep the albums to remember each other by.”

quoted from here

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How Laura´s mother signed Laura´s autograph book.

Autograph Cover

Autograph albums were indeed all the range in the 19th century.  Their heyday was from 1830 to 1850.  Signature quilts are a phenomena of this period too.  One important development was the invention of permanent ink in 1845; signatures written 150 years ago are still legible today.

image and quote from here

Leaf through an 1883 autograph book here

Leaf through several vintage autograph books here

Look into a 1914 autograph book here

Interesting article on autograph books and poesiealben

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To make a doll autograph book, just find a picture of an autograph book cover you like and print it out at a size approx. 2″ x 3″.

Sew or staple together a few blank pages, preferably in a slightly off-white paper. Now cut two pieces of thin cardboard to the dimensions of your book cover. Cover them with neutral colored paper to make a sturdy cover and glue the blank pages inside. Finish by gluing the cover image to the front.

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I only had a black and white printer, so I picked a black and white image with high contrast and printed it onto colored paper. Later, I added some embellishment with a silver touch-up pen.

Any American girl after Felicity could have had an autograph book, though they became less popular after the 1950s.

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