Heirloom Autograph Book

STORIES are the harp strings of history, transforming the past into melody and rhythm. The best stories live forever in the human mind.  The demand for a good story is as wide, as unsatisfied, as human longing, and the search for a new one as difficult and elusive as the discovery of a new element in nature.  (Histories and Stories of Nebraska by Addison Ervin Sheldon, 1920)


An Autograph book is a book for collecting the autographs of others.  Traditionally they were exchanged among friends, colleagues, and classmates to fill with poems, drawings, personal messages, small pieces of verse, and other mementos.  Their modern derivations include yearbooks, friendship books, and guest books.  They were popular among university students from the 15th century until the mid-19th century, after which their popularity began to wane as they were gradually replaced by yearbooks.

The first true autograph books appeared in German and Dutch linguistic regions (possibly originating in Wittenberg) by the mid-16th century.  Known as an album amicorum (book of friends) or stammbuch friendship book), the oldest on record is that of Claude de Senarclens, an associate of John Calvin, and dates back to 1545.

German immigrants transported the tradition to American culture in the late 18th century, where their popularity peaked around the time of the Civil Car.  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.  Until the 18th century, German autograph albums generally consisted of loose sheets of paper or sometimes vellum bound in an elongated octavo format; later they became available in the horizontal format.  The binding material varied dramatically from cardboard to gold-tooled leather.

07290902-Martin Luther AcademyExcerpts from my husband’s maternal grandmother’s 1915-1916 autograph book follow. Marie, a lonely 15-year old southeast Nebraska farm girl, returned to her family only months after walking through the doors of the Sterling, Nebraska Martin Luther Academy, less than 20 miles from home. The autograph book surely a remembrance of those months at the Academy. (Marie Lenners seated on left)

Marie began her young life briefly attending the Martin Luther Academy located in the small rural community of Sterling, Nebraska.  When this rural Lutheran-based school closed, it became the center point for the Martin Luther Home.  On October 20, 1925 in the library of the then vacant Martin Luther Academy, the Martin Luther Home was founded as a school for children with developmental and physical disabilities.  In Marie’s latter years, she volunteered weekly as a “Grandparent” at the Martin Luther Home. Her involvement with the various facets of the institution felt thoughout her 89 years.

Martin Luther Academy textbook (1)Martin Luther Academy textbook (2)

Now feel the rhythm and melody of Marie’s story through her classmates writings. Heartwarming, inspirational, and some downright funny.



About corinthrose

Born again Christian, helpmate of 42 years, domestic engineer of two children, GRANDmother of six darlings, professional volunteer, fanatic photographer, and a wanna be writer. Occasionally, infatuated with family history, flower photography, and traveling with my hiking buddy.
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7 Responses to Heirloom Autograph Book

  1. Diana says:

    Cheryl – thanks for posting this series! I especially liked the eary history connections. Not only were the rhymes special, it was quite interesting to look at the hometowns of the young ladies, quite a wide range. S.S. might have been Sophie Schuster. There were one or two male names, signed as ‘friends’ but maybe they were instructors at this girls school. Autograph books were still popular about the time I was in junior high, 1950s, I remember some of these same rhymes.

  2. Fascinating look at history! And such good penmanship. Isn’t it an awesome feeling to hold something that old in your hands? I have deeds written in the 1800s that are yellowed.

  3. Sheryl says:

    I had a little autograph when I was a child. I can remember getting my friends to sign it when I was in junior high. I wonder if I still have it in a box somewhere.

  4. Moriah says:

    Great Post, very interesting. It makes me want to start one. 🙂 Love it!

  5. moriahmm89 says:

    Lovely. ❤ I left a comment on your website:)

  6. I too recognize some of those rhymes from my own autograph book from the 50’s. And here’s another favorite autograph rhyme from that time–sort of a for-runner of textspeak!
    2 YY’s U R
    2 YY’s U B
    I C U R
    2 YY’s 4 me.

    • corinthrose says:

      Thanks for the neat rhyme, Kate. I’ve been reading several of your Adult Literacy posts and am learning and/or confirming information.

      To all who posted on or liked the Heirloom Autograph Book, I say “thank you.” Reading blogs can be time consuming, so I do appreciate the time you took to read this one.

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